The CDC released updated guidance Friday that says that most U.S. counties do not qualify as “at-risk” areas for Covid-19 transmission and therefore can drop their mask requirements.
Only 28 percent of people in the United States still live in at-risk regions where masking is urged in indoor settings. It’s not necessary for the rest of the over 70 percent of U.S. residents to wear masks, according to the new data. The CDC’s new notice is a significant reversal from its last advisory, which was responding to the rampant spread of the Omicron variant in recommending that about 99 percent of the population should mask indoors.
“This new framework moves beyond just looking at cases and test positivity, to evaluate factors that reflect the severity of disease — including hospitalizations and hospital capacity — and helps to determine whether the level of Covid-19 and severe disease are low, medium or high in a community,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told reporters Friday.
“The Covid-19 community level we are releasing today will inform CDC recommendations on prevention measures, like masking, and CDC recommendations for layered prevention measures will depend on the Covid-19 level in the community,” she added. “This updated approach focuses on directing our prevention efforts towards protecting people at high risk for severe illness and preventing hospitals and health care systems from being overwhelmed.”
The new guidance assigns designations to counties on the basis of community spread of Covid-19. Counties with less than 200 new Covid-19 cases per 100,000 people in the past week have “low” community levels of the virus if Covid-19 hospital admissions are less than ten per 100,000 or less than ten percent of staffed hospital beds filled by Covid-19 patients on average in the last week, CNN noted.
Counties with ten to nearly 20 new Covid-19 hospital admissions per 100,000 people or between ten percent and 14.9 percent of staffed hospital beds filled by Covid-19 patients on average in the past week are at “medium” levels of the disease. Counties with 20 or more new Covid-19 hospital admissions per 100,000 or at least 15 percent of staff hospital beds filled by Covid-19 patients on average in the past week are at “high” levels of the disease.
The CDC guidance modification comes after multiple states that were notorious for strict pandemic protocols, such as New Jersey and Connecticut, relaxed their mask restrictions for K-12 schools due to waning case numbers and hospitalizations.