The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new recommendations on face coverings on Friday, effectively advising that Americans in counties representing over 70 percent of the population no longer need to wear masks inside in public. “We want to give people a break from things like masking when our levels are low and then have the ability to reach for them again should things get worse in the future,” said CDC director Rochelle Walensky. “We need to be prepared and we need to be ready for whatever comes next.”
The move, which also allows the lifting of social distancing measures, comes as Omicron cases and hospitalizations drop rapidly throughout much of the United States and debate rages on about how and when to lessen pandemic restrictions for a virus that killed 2,908 Americans yesterday. The new, adaptable metric guiding the easing of masking recommendations no longer just involves the number of cases in a county but advises that local public-health officials consider three factors instead: new COVID-caused hospitalizations over the prior week, the percentage of hospital beds taken up by COVID patients, and the number of COVID cases per 100,000 people in the prior week. Based on those factors, the CDC now says, communities can determine whether there is a high, medium, or low risk of catching the coronavirus, and residents only need to mask up when the risk is high.
The decision follows the recent expiration of mask mandates in deep-blue states like New York, California, and New Jersey. Prior to the policy change, the CDC advised that 99 percent of the population should wear masks indoors. “Now it’s time to focus on severity, not just cases, of COVID,” Health and Human Services secretary Xavier Becerra told CNN. “Because of all the hard work that’s been done and the many tools we’ve developed to tackle COVID, we can ease the guidance on mask use — not everyone in every place needs to wear a mask.” For those areas, there is no recommendation for indoor masking unless you are unvaccinated or at potential “increased risk” for COVID-19.