“Disinfection is only recommended in indoor settings — schools and homes — where there has been a suspected or confirmed case of Covid-19 within the last 24 hours,” Dr. Walensky said during the White House briefing. “Also, in most cases, fogging, fumigation and wide-area or electrostatic spraying is not recommended as a primary method of disinfection and has several safety risks to consider.”

And the new cleaning guidelines do not apply to health care facilities, which may require more intensive cleaning and disinfection.

Saskia Popescu, an infectious disease epidemiologist at George Mason University, said that she was happy to see the new guidance, which “reflects our evolving data on transmission throughout the pandemic.”

But she noted that it remained important to continue doing some regular cleaning — and maintaining good hand-washing practices — to reduce the risk of contracting not just the coronavirus but any other pathogens that might be lingering on a particular surface.

Dr. Allen said that the school and business officials he has spoken with this week expressed relief over the updated guidelines, which will allow them to pull back on some of their intensive cleaning regimens. “This frees up a lot of organizations to spend that money better,” he said.

Schools, businesses and other institutions that want to keep people safe should shift their attention from surfaces to air quality, he said, and invest in improved ventilation and filtration.

“This should be the end of deep cleaning,” Dr. Allen said, noting that the misplaced focus on surfaces has had real costs. “It has led to closed playgrounds, it has led to taking nets off basketball courts, it has led to quarantining books in the library. It has led to entire missed school days for deep cleaning. It has led to not being able to share a pencil. So that’s all that hygiene theater, and it’s a direct result of not properly classifying surface transmission as low risk.”

Roni Caryn Rabin contributed reporting

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More Contagious Covid Variant Is Now Dominant in U.S., C.D.C. Says

WASHINGTON — A highly infectious variant of the coronavirus that was first identified in Britain has become the most common source of new infections in the United States, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Wednesday. The worrisome development comes as officials and scientists warn of a possible fourth surge of infections.

Federal health officials said in January that the B.1.1.7 variant, which began surging in Britain in December and has since slammed Europe, could become the dominant source of coronavirus infections in the United States, leading to a huge increase in cases and deaths.

At that point, new cases, hospitalizations and deaths were at an all-time high. From that peak, the numbers all declined until late February, according to a New York Times database. After several weeks at a plateau, new cases and hospitalizations are increasing again. The average number of new cases in the country has reached nearly 65,000 a day as of Tuesday, concentrated mostly in metro areas in Michigan as well as in the New York City region. That is an increase of 19 percent compared with the figure two weeks ago.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the C.D.C. director, who warned last week that she felt a recurring sense of “impending doom,” said on Wednesday that 52 of the agency’s 64 jurisdictions — which include states, some major cities and territories — are now reporting cases of these so-called “variants of concern,” including B.1.1.7.

60 percent more contagious and 67 percent more deadly than the original form of the coronavirus, according to the most recent estimates. The C.D.C. has also been tracking the spread of other variants, such as B.1.351, first found in South Africa, and P.1, which was first identified in Brazil.

The percentage of cases caused by variants is clearly increasing. Helix, a lab testing company, has tracked the relentless increase of B.1.1.7 since the beginning of the year. As of April 3, it estimated that the variant made up 58.9 percent of all new tests.

That variant has been found to be most prevalent in Michigan, Florida, Colorado, California, Minnesota and Massachusetts, according to the C.D.C. Until recently, the variant’s rise was somewhat camouflaged by falling infection rates over all, leading some political leaders to relax restrictions on indoor dining, social distancing and other measures.

against the warnings of some scientists.

Federal health officials are tracking reports of increasing cases associated with day care centers and youth sports, and hospitals are seeing more younger adults — people in their 30s and 40s who are admitted with “severe disease,” Dr. Walensky said.

It is difficult for scientists to say exactly how much of the current patterns of infection are because of the growing frequency of B.1.1.7.

“It’s muddled by the reopening that’s going on and changes in behavior,” said Dr. Adam Lauring, a virologist at the University of Michigan.

But he noted that people were becoming less cautious at a time when they should be raising their guard against a more contagious variant. “It’s worrisome,” he said.

At the same time, the United States is currently vaccinating an average of about three million people a day, and states have rushed to make all adults eligible. The C.D.C. reported on Tuesday that about 108.3 million people had received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, including about 64.4 million people who have been fully vaccinated. New Mexico, South Dakota, Rhode Island and Alaska are leading the states, with about 25 percent of their total populations fully vaccinated.

Scientists hope that vaccination will blunt any potential fourth surge.

On Tuesday, President Biden moved up his vaccination timetable by two weeks, calling states to make every American adult eligible by April 19. All states have already met or expect to beat this goal after he initially asked that they do so by May 1.

hundreds of genomes predicted that this variant could become predominant in the country in a month. At that time, the C.D.C. was struggling to sequence the new variants, which made it difficult to track them.

But those efforts have substantially improved in recent weeks and will continue to grow, in large part because of $1.75 billion in funds for genomic sequencing in the stimulus package that Mr. Biden signed into law last month. By contrast, Britain, which has a more centralized health care system, began a highly promoted sequencing program last year that allowed it to track the spread of the B.1.1.7 variant.

“We knew this was going to happen: This variant is a lot more transmissible, much more infectious than the parent strain, and that obviously has implications,” said Dr. Carlos del Rio, a professor of medicine and an infectious disease expert at Emory University. In addition to spreading more efficiently, he said, the B.1.1.7 strain appears to cause more severe disease, “so that gives you a double whammy.”

Perhaps even more troubling is the emergence of the virulent P.1 variant in North America. First identified in Brazil, it has become the dominant variant in that country, helping to drive its hospitals to the breaking point. In Canada, the P.1 variant emerged as a cluster in Ontario, then shut down the Whistler ski resort in British Columbia. On Wednesday, the National Hockey League’s Vancouver Canucks said at least 21 players and four staff members had been infected with the coronavirus.

“This is a stark reminder of how quickly the virus can spread and its serious impact, even among healthy, young athletes,” the team’s doctor, Jim Bovard, said in a statement.

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Most U.S. infections are now caused by a contagious new virus variant, the C.D.C. says.

Scientists have been predicting another rise in infections, as states relax their public health restrictions and restive Americans go back to school and work. But they are hoping that vaccination will blunt any potential fourth surge.

On Tuesday, President Biden moved up his vaccination timetable by two weeks, calling on states to make every American adult eligible for coronavirus vaccination by April 19, a goal nearly all states have already met or expect to beat after he initially asked they do so by May 1.

“It is in our power to minimize death, disease, and misery,” Andy Slavitt, a White House pandemic adviser, said Wednesday. “If all of us do our part, we can help save lives in April, May, and June. Wear a mask. Socially distance. Get vaccinated when it’s your turn.”

In February, a study that analyzed half a million coronavirus tests and hundreds of genomes predicted that in a month this variant could become predominant in the United States. At that time, the C.D.C. was struggling to sequence the new variants, which made it difficult to track them.

But those efforts have substantially improved in recent weeks and will continue to grow, in large part because of $1.75 billion in funds for genomic sequencing in the stimulus package that President Biden signed into law last month. By contrast, Britain, with a more centralized health care system, began a highly touted sequencing program last year that allowed it to track the spread of the B.1.1.7 variant.

“We knew this was going to happen, this variant is a lot more transmissible, much more infectious than the parent strain and that obviously has implications,” said Dr. Carlos del Rio, a professor of medicine and infectious disease expert at Emory University. In addition to spreading more efficiently, he said, the B.1.1.7 strain appears to cause more severe disease, “so that gives you a double whammy.”

The White House also announced an expansion to its vaccination program at community health centers, bringing the total to nearly 1,400 community centers across the country where people can get vaccinated. Mr. Slavitt said most of these community centers are in underserved neighborhoods with many uninsured patients. Last week, Mr. Biden promised that 90 percent of adults in the country will have a vaccine site within five miles of their home.

Eileen Sullivan contributed reporting.

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Can Vaccinated People Spread the Virus? We Don’t Know, Scientists Say.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday walked back controversial comments made by its director, Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, suggesting that people who are vaccinated against the coronavirus never become infected or transmit the virus to others.

The assertion called into question the precautions that the agency had urged vaccinated people to take just last month, like wearing masks and gathering only under limited circumstances with unvaccinated people.

“Dr. Walensky spoke broadly during this interview,” an agency spokesman told The Times. “It’s possible that some people who are fully vaccinated could get Covid-19. The evidence isn’t clear whether they can spread the virus to others. We are continuing to evaluate the evidence.”

The agency was responding in part to criticism from scientists who noted that current research was far from sufficient to claim that vaccinated people cannot spread the virus.

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, Dr. Walensky referred to data published by the C.D.C. showing that one dose of the Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was 80 percent effective at preventing infection, and two doses were 90 percent effective.

That certainly suggested that transmission from vaccinated people might be unlikely, but Dr. Walensky’s comments hinted that protection was complete. “Our data from the C.D.C. today suggests that vaccinated people do not carry the virus, don’t get sick,” she said. “And that it’s not just in the clinical trials, it’s also in real-world data.”

Dr. Walensky went on to emphasize the importance of continuing to wear masks and maintain precautions, even for vaccinated people. Still, the brief comment was widely interpreted as saying that the vaccines offered complete protection against infection or transmission.

In a pandemic that regularly spawns scientific misunderstanding, experts said they were sympathetic to Dr. Walensky and her obvious desire for Americans to continue to take precautions. It was only Monday that she said rising caseloads had left her with a sense of “impending doom.”

“If Dr. Walensky had said most vaccinated people do not carry virus, we would not be having this discussion,” said John Moore, a virologist at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York.

“What we know is the vaccines are very substantially effective against infection — there’s more and more data on that — but nothing is 100 percent,” he added. “It is an important public health message that needs to be gotten right.”

Misinterpretation could disrupt the agency’s urgent pleas for immunization, some experts said. As of Wednesday, 30 percent of Americans had received at least one dose of a vaccine and 17 percent were fully immunized.

“There cannot be any daylight between what the research shows — really impressive but incomplete protection — and how it is described,” said Dr. Peter Bach, director of the Center for Health Policy and Outcomes at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

“This opens the door to the skeptics who think the government is sugarcoating the science,” Dr. Bach said, “and completely undermines any remaining argument why people should keep wearing masks after being vaccinated.”

All of the coronavirus vaccines are spectacularly successful at preventing serious disease and death from Covid-19, but how well they prevent infection has been less clear.

Clinical trials of the vaccines were designed only to assess whether the vaccines prevent serious illness and death. The research from the C.D.C. on Monday brought the welcome conclusion that the vaccines are also extremely effective at preventing infection.

The study enrolled 3,950 health care workers, emergency responders and others at high risk of infection. The participants swabbed their noses each week and sent the samples in for testing, which allowed federal researchers to track all infections, symptomatic or not. Two weeks after vaccination, the vast majority of vaccinated people remained virus-free, the study found.

Follow-up data from clinical trials support that finding. In results released by Pfizer and BioNTech on Wednesday, for example, 77 people who received the vaccine had a coronavirus infection, compared with 850 people who got a placebo.

“Clearly, some vaccinated people do get infected,” Dr. Duprex said. “We’re stopping symptoms, we’re keeping people out of hospitals. But we’re not making them completely resistant to an infection.”

The number of vaccinated people who become infected is likely to be higher among those receiving vaccines made by Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca, which have a lower efficacy, experts said. (Still, those vaccines are worth taking, because they uniformly prevent serious illness and death.)

Infection rates may also be higher among people exposed to a virus variant that can sidestep the immune system.

Cases across the country are once again on the upswing, threatening a new surge. Dr. Walensky’s comment came just a day after she made an emotional appeal to the American public to continue taking precautions.

“I am asking you to just hold on a little longer, to get vaccinated when you can, so that all of those people that we all love will still be here when this pandemic ends,” she said.

Given the rising numbers, it’s especially important that immunized people continue to protect those who have not yet been immunized against the virus, experts said.

“Vaccinated people should not be throwing away their masks at this point,” Dr. Moore said. “This pandemic is not over.”

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Fully vaccinated people in the U.S. now have more guidance from the C.D.C. on activities. That doesn’t yet include travel.

When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced new freedoms for the fully-vaccinated members of the population, questions about traveling to visit grandchildren, for example, were immediate.

The answer, the C.D.C. director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, said was yes, as long as the vaccinated grandparents lived nearby. But the agency continues to warn Americans against traveling in general.

“We know that after mass travel, after vacations, after holidays, we tend to see a surge in cases,” Dr. Walensky said Monday night on MSNBC. “And so, we really want to make sure — again with just 10 percent of people vaccinated — that we are limiting travel.”

To the frustration of airlines and others in the travel industry, the latest guidance comes as students and families are considering spring break plans almost a year after wide swaths of the United States first shut down, and a growing share of Americans tentatively book travel for later in the year.

scientists do not yet understand whether and how often immunized people may still transmit the virus. If they can, then masking and other precautions are still needed in certain settings to contain the virus, researchers have said.

“We know that the travel corridor is a place where people are mixing a lot,” Dr. Walensky said during a White House briefing on Monday. “We’re hopeful that our next set of guidance will have more science around what vaccinated people can do, perhaps travel being among them.”

Airlines for America, an industry organization, has argued that airplanes have a very low risk for virus transmission because of high-end cabin ventilation systems, strong disinfection practices and strict rules requiring that passengers wear masks. The industry has also argued that it plays a vital economic role and that further restrictions to travel could hinder the recovery.

“We remain confident that this layered approach significantly reduces risk and are encouraged that science continues to confirm there is a very low risk of virus transmission onboard aircraft,” the group said.

included $50 billion in grants and loans to prop up the airline industry, which was hobbled by the pandemic. In December, Congress approved another $15 billion in grants to keep airline workers employed. The relief bill passed by the Senate on Saturday, includes $14 billion more for airlines, a measure applauded by the industry.

In a Monday letter to President Biden’s coronavirus response coordinator, Jeffrey D. Zients, a coalition of travel and tourism trade groups asked to work with the White House on federal guidance for temporary virus “health credentials,” which could be used to securely and uniformly verify test results or vaccination status. Such guidance could also yield benefits beyond aviation, they argued.

“It could encourage more widespread adoption of processes to verify testing and vaccination records, from sports arenas to restaurants, business meetings, theme parks, and more,” the group wrote.

Currently, the Biden administration requires people traveling to the United States from another country to present a negative virus test. At one point this year, administration officials were considering a similar requirement for domestic travel, a move the airline industry pushed back against, saying it was needlessly restrictive and would hurt an already struggling sector. The C.D.C. in February said it was not recommending testing for domestic travel “at this time.”

“We remain in the midst of a serious pandemic,” Dr. Walensky said Monday at the news conference. “Therefore, everyone, whether vaccinated or not, should continue to avoid medium- and large-sized gatherings, as well as nonessential travel.”

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