Most Americans are currently not required to wear a mask indoors, under new CDC guidelines

As of today, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) no longer recommends wearing masks in indoor public areas for most Americans.

Using a new method of assessing community risk, more than half of U.S. counties — home to about 70% of the nation’s population — currently fail the threshold for recommended universal indoor masking, CDC officials said during a press conference today. (You can find your county’s COVID-19 risk level here.)

“With widespread immunity in the population, the overall risk of serious disease is now generally lower,” said CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky during the briefing. The CDC is now focused on preventing serious illness and pressures in the health care system, she said, rather than just stopping new infections. The agency now determines an area’s risk based on the number of hospital admissions, health care capacity and number of new cases, rather than just the number of cases and test positivity rates.
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Indoor universal masking is now recommended only for counties that are considered high risk based on these statistics. Schools can follow the same guidelines as the wider community, CDC officials said. (Of course, people can choose to wear masks if they want to, and the CDC advises anyone with COVID-19 symptoms to wear a mask. The CDC also urges Americans to stay informed about their COVID-19 vaccinations, regardless of their community risk level.)

The masking advice does not apply to planes, trains and transit centers, where masking is still required by a national mandate until at least March 18.

The change comes just weeks after Walensky said on Feb. 9 it was too early to change the agency’s mask guidelines given the high infection and death rates, although some states ended the mandates. The number of cases has since fallen dramatically, from an average of more than 210,000 diagnoses per day to about 75,000 per day on February 23. The average number of deaths has also fallen from about 2,500 to about 1,500 per day since Feb. 9.

The CDC was criticized in May 2021 when it said vaccinated people in the US no longer had to wear masks indoors. Many experts called that premature; indeed, it came shortly before the Delta variant caused the number of cases and hospitalizations to increase over the summer. Omicron caused an even bigger spike in cases a few months later.

The latest shift in guidance is sure to be controversial too, lining up those who feel it’s time to live with COVID-19 versus those who argue it’s too early to give up pandemic precautions as tens of thousands of people still have to deal with it. are infected by the virus every day and vaccines are not yet approved for the youngest children in the country. Which way is right remains to be seen, but during the press conference, Walensky acknowledged that guidance could change in the future.

“We want to give people a break from things like wearing masks when our levels are low, and then have the opportunity to reach them again if things get worse in the future,” she said.

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