The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) moved Friday to loosen federal mask-wearing guidance for counties deemed to be at “low” or “medium” risk – including in schools.
Most Americans will no longer be advised to wear masks in indoor public settings and the agency announced a change to the metric it uses in recommending the face coverings – shifting from looking at COVID-19 cases counts to a more comprehensive view about a community’s risk from the virus. Roughly 70% of Americans live in low- or medium-risk counties.
Under previous guidelines, masks were recommended for individuals in communities with substantial or high transmission.
While the metrics will still consider cases, the agency will also take into account hospitalizations and local hospital capacity.
The majority of people will no longer live in areas where the CDC is recommending masking.
This action comes as states and cities around the country have lifted indoor mask mandates and proof of vaccination requirements.
COVID-19 cases have fallen greatly since January’s surge of the omicron variant, which still makes up 99.9% of new cases, according to the CDC.
Data from the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center shows the country saw 65,491 and 2,941 new deaths in the past day.
Public health leaders and the White House have said that they are cautiously optimistic about current pandemic trends.
Speaking at a Feb. 16 White House COVID-19 response team briefing, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said that the agency wants to “give people a break from things like mask-wearing” when metrics are “better.”
In addition, Walensky said the CDC wants the option to reach for restrictions again “should things worsen.”
“However, it’s also important to remember, regardless of the level of disease burden in your community, there are still very important times to continue to wear your mask,” she told reporters, noting people should continue to put one on 10 days after a diagnosis, if they were exposed to a person with COVID-19 and are quarantining and if they are symptomatic or feeling unwell.
“At @CDCgov, we have been analyzing our #COVID19 data and shifting our focus to preventing the most severe outcomes and minimizing healthcare strain,” Walensky tweeted Thursday night.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.