The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Friday significantly eased COVID-19 guidelines for masks, including in schools, a move that means 72% of residents reside in communities where indoor face coverings are no longer recommended.
The new masking guidelines are shifting from focusing on the rate of COVID-19 transmission to monitoring local hospitalization, hospital capacity and infection rates.
According to previous guidelines, 95% of US counties were deemed to have high transmission, leaving only 5% of US counties meeting the agency’s criteria to drop the indoor mask requirement.
“We are in a stronger place today as a country that has more tools to protect ourselves and our community from COVID-19,” Rochelle Wallinsky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said during a briefing Friday.
She noted the availability of vaccines and boosters, expanded access to testing, the availability of high-quality masks, and the potential for access to new treatments and improved ventilation.
“As the population’s immunity spreads, the overall risk of serious disease has generally become lower,” Walinsky said.
The moves come as the wave of coronavirus infections caused by the Omicron variant that’s spreading so easily in the United States recedes, and states like New Jersey have announced plans to lift indoor mask mandates for schools and other public places in the coming days.
The new policy is divided into three categories – low, medium and high risk – based on hospital capacity and cases.
He advises people in medium-risk communities who are at increased risk of complications from the disease, such as those with compromised immune systems, to ask their doctors if they should wear a mask.
With the pandemic now entering its third year, many Americans are tired of wearing masks. Additionally, studies have shown that for vaccinated people, infections from the Omicron variant were less severe and less likely to cause hospitalization and death than previous versions of the coronavirus.
Travelers will still need to wear masks on planes, trains, buses, and at airports and train stations. Those requirements expire on March 18, Walinsky said, and the CDC will reconsider them in the coming weeks.
The new guidelines apply regardless of vaccination status.
Dr. Amish Adalja, an infectious disease expert at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said the changes make sense given that transmission rates in the United States are high, but hospitalization rates have remained low.
“Focus on hospital capacity is a much better metric and has always been the biggest concern,” he said in an email.
The CDC said that concealing comprehensive schools will now only be advised in communities with a “high” level of COVID-19. The previous recommendation advised mask disguise in schools regardless of the level of COVID transmission.
“We need to be flexible and be able to say we need to loosen the layers of safeguards when things get better,” Walinsky said. “And then we need to be able to call them back, if we have a new variant, during the surge.”
The CDC has come under fire for changes in its stance on masking. Last spring, Walinsky told vaccinated Americans that it was safe to take off their masks indoors in areas of low transmission, but reversed course a few months later when it became clear that fully vaccinated people could transmit the virus.
In an interview with Reuters earlier this month, Walinsky said “now is not the time” to remove masks in schools after officials in New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware, California and Oregon announced that they plan to lift indoor mask mandates for schools and more. Interior spaces.