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May 24, 2022, 7:56 a.m. EDT

Philadelphia reinstates face-mask mandate for students and teachers, and WHO head warns pandemic is ‘most certainly not over’

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By Ciara Linnane

Philadelphia has reinstated a face-mask mandate for students and teachers that comes into effect Monday, in its latest move to rein in COVID-19 infections.

The news was announced Friday by William Hite, superintendent of the public school district, who said it would remain in effect until further notice. “As we’ve learned since the pandemic began, the coronavirus continues to evolve and so too will our response to it,”  Hite said in a statement. 

The move comes as COVID cases continue to rise across the U.S. and trend at the highest levels seen since March, driven by the BA.2 variant of omicron and two subvariants that appear to be even more infectious.

The U.S. is averaging 108,065 cases a day, up 53% from two weeks ago,  according to a New York Times tracker. Cases are higher in nearly every state, but the Northeast and Midwest are being particularly hard hit with case reports in both regions now higher than they were at the peak of last summer’s delta surge. New York City raised its COVID alert to “high” last week, and the CDC warned that one-third of Americans are living in areas with medium to high transmission levels.

There are concerns that case numbers are even higher than known, as many people are now testing at home and data are not being collected. 

The country is averaging 24,728 hospitalizations a day, the tracker shows, up 30% from two weeks ago. The daily death toll has fallen to 309 on average, down 16% from two weeks ago.

The pandemic is “most certainly not over,” the head of the World Health Organization warned Sunday, as he reminded governments that “we lower our guard at our peril,” the Associated Press reported.

The director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, told officials gathered in Geneva for opening of the WHO’s annual meeting that “declining testing and sequencing means we are blinding ourselves to the evolution of the virus.” He also noted that almost 1 billion people in lower-income countries still haven’t been vaccinated.

While there has been progress, with 60% of the world’s population vaccinated, “it’s not over anywhere until it’s over everywhere,” Tedros said.

“Reported cases are increasing in almost 70 countries in all regions, and this in a world in which testing rates have plummeted,” he added.

Tedros has repeatedly warned that leaving vast areas of the world unvaccinated would allow new variants to emerge that may prove vaccine-resistant and be more lethal than existing and previous ones.

“In all, we see vaccine hesitancy driven by misinformation and disinformation,” Tedros said. “The pandemic will not magically disappear, but we can end it.”

In medical news, Pfizer /zigman2/quotes/202877789/composite PFE +0.59% and BioNTech /zigman2/quotes/214419716/composite BNTX +2.08% said three doses of their COVID-19 vaccine for children age 6 months to 5 years “met all immunobridging criteria” required for emergency-use authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Don’t miss: ‘This isn’t just gonna go away’: Long COVID is crashing the retirement hopes of many Americans

Also see: COVID-19 boosters for children to be rolled out

The companies said the vaccine showed 80.3% efficacy in an analysis of three doses at a time when omicron was the dominant variant, with a favorable safety profile, similar to placebo.

“The study suggests that a low [3-milligram] dose of our vaccine, carefully selected based on tolerability data, provides young children with a high level of protection against the recent COVID-19 strains,” said BioNTech Chief Executive Ugur Sahin. “We are preparing the relevant documents and expect completing the submission process to the FDA this week, with submissions to EMA and other regulatory agencies to follow within the coming weeks.” 

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