CDC guidelines suggest 70 percent of US could stop wearing masks

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday offered a new strategy to help communities across the country live with the coronavirus and return to a version of normal life.

The new guidelines suggest that 70 percent of Americans can now stop wearing masks and no longer have to practice social distancing or avoid crowded indoor spaces.

The recommendations no longer rely solely on the number of cases in a community to determine the need for restrictions such as wearing masks. Instead, they are instructing provinces to consider three measures to assess the risk of the virus: new Covid-related hospital admissions in the past week and the percentage of hospital beds occupied by Covid patients, as well as new cases of coronavirus per 100,000 people in the United States. last week .

Based on these three factors, provinces can calculate whether the risk to their residents is low, medium or high, and only in high-risk areas should everyone wear a mask. But unvaccinated people should wear masks even in low-risk areas, the agency said.

The agency had approved universal masking in schools since July, regardless of virus levels in the community, but the new guidelines recommend masking in schools only in high-risk counties.

The new guidelines are being released as the coronavirus recedes across the country. The number of cases has fallen to levels not seen before the wave of the Omicron variant, and the number of hospitalizations has fallen sharply. Across the country, about 58,000 people have been hospitalized with Covid, but that number has fallen by about 44 percent in the past two weeks.

Several experts said the new guidelines were appropriate for the current situation in the country. While cases across the country are still high, “we’re way past the wave,” said Linsey Marr, an aerosol scientist at Virginia Tech. “We don’t have to operate in emergency mode anymore.”

But in many places, pandemic restrictions have already been lifted. Most states have relaxed mask-wearing rules, and some, like New Jersey, have announced plans to lift mandates even in schools. Others are about to end indoor mask mandates in the coming weeks. An official recommendation from the CDC may have some impact in districts that have been more cautious.

According to the CDC’s prior criteria, 95 percent of counties in the United States were considered high risk. Under the new criteria, fewer than 30 percent of Americans live in high-risk areas, the agency said.

The new set of guidelines gives people a framework for adjusting precautions as virus levels change, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the CDC, told reporters Friday.

“We want to give people a break from things like masking when our levels are low, and then have the option to reach out to them again if things get worse in the future,” she said. “We need to be prepared and ready for what’s to come.”

Those who are particularly vulnerable because of their age, health status or occupation may choose to take extra precautions regardless of the level of risk in their community, she added.

The availability of high-quality masks such as N95 respirators allows high-risk individuals to continue to protect themselves even if others around them aren’t taking precautions, said Dr. marr.


February 25, 2022, 9:44 PM ET

She added that it was a good thing that the agency would continue to monitor the cases, as hospital rates can lag for two to three weeks. “By the time hospitals are overloaded, it’s too late,” she said.

But dr. Walensky said CDC scientists tested models using data from past peaks to confirm that the new method of calculating risk would have detected the peaks early.

The Omicron wave made it clear that because so many Americans have some immunity to the virus through vaccinations or previous infection, counties can see high numbers of cases yet relatively few cases involving serious illness. The new guidelines point to that reality and enable a more sustainable approach to living with the virus, public health experts say.

“It just looked wrong for the whole country to be a single shade of red,” said Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health.

While a growing number of political leaders, public health experts and ordinary citizens are now supporting the easing of restrictions, at least temporarily, others are still wary. They note that millions of people in the United States — including children under 5 — and billions around the world are unvaccinated, making the emergence of a dangerous new strain not only possible but likely.

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A new CDC framework. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have released new guidelines that will help counties determine when and where people should wear masks, maintain social distancing and avoid crowded indoor spaces.

The CDC and the Biden administration have previously prematurely declared victory, including last spring when they told vaccinated Americans they could go mask-free and celebrate a “summer of freedom,” only to see the Delta variant increase hospitalizations and deaths. rose.

The White House has been working on a pandemic exit strategy that would help Americans live with the virus. But dr. Walensky said just two weeks ago that it was not yet time to lift mask mandates. And some officials from the CDC and the Department of Health and Human Services are nervous about the changing guidance, according to a government official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Some public health experts also objected to the easing of restrictions, noting that the country records about 1,900 Covid-related deaths every day, children under 5 still have no vaccines available to them, and significant numbers Americans are at high risk because of their age, health condition or occupation.

The agency’s new guidelines don’t address whether or for how long people who test positive for the virus should isolate themselves, noted Dr Robby Sikka, chair of the Covid-19 Sports and Society Working Group, an organization that monitors keeps on the safety of professional sports teams. †

A study published Friday by the CDC suggested that about half of those who tested positive remained infectious after five days — the length of isolation the agency currently recommends. “If people stay in isolation for five days, or worse, we just let people go, we may see the number of cases increase,” said Dr. Sikka.

Even people who don’t become seriously ill can suffer long-term consequences from infection, noted Zoë McLaren, a health policy expert at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. “We are pursuing a pandemic policy on the assumption that the massive infection that occurred during the Omicron wave has little to no health impact on the population, but there is mounting evidence that Covid infection often has lingering health effects,” he said. they.

In an open letter to elected officials, a group of 400 public health and education experts resisted pressure to lift mandates for indoor masks, saying it was “premature and that children, their school communities and their families are greater risk of illness, disability and death.”

“The challenge right now is that we definitely need to consider hospital capacity, but we also need to think about vaccination in children and adults,” said Sonali Rajan, an expert in school health programs at Columbia University and one of the authors of the letter. .

Ideally, the CDC would continue to refine its models for assessing risk in communities, including incorporating signals from wastewater analysis and other approaches, said Joseph Allen, a building quality expert at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. .

“One thing is clear, there is no clear cut-off point for any of these metrics,” said Dr. all. “I hope CDC avoids that trap again.”

Zolan Kanno-Youngs reported.

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