Feb. 25, 2022 -- The CDC on Friday released new, less restrictive mask guidance for most counties in the United States.

The updated recommendations are based on new ways to assess COVID-19 risk in communities, which will focus on local pandemic-related hospital strain rather than case numbers alone.

“This framework moves beyond new cases and test positivity,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, said during a briefing Friday. “The intent of the community guidance is to look at severe disease, people who are coming into the hospital.”

The current metrics are based on COVID-19 case counts. As of now, face masks are recommended in public places such as gyms and movie theaters in communities of substantial or high transmission. That’s more than 95% of counties in the United States.

What the CDC wants, Walensky said, is to make sure hospitals are not overwhelmed and that cases of severe disease drop.

The updated framework will use data from three categories, Walensky said: New COVID-related hospital admissions from the previous week, the number of hospital beds occupied by COVID-19 patients, and the number of new COVID-19 cases in the area.

Taken together, those statistics will determine whether a county is high-risk, medium-risk, or low-risk.

This will affect school mask guidelines as well. The CDC will recommend that only schools in high-risk areas continue with universal masking.

As of now, most counties in the country fall into either low-risk or medium-risk categories, said Greta Massetti, PhD, of the COVID-19 Response Incident Management Team.

Those counties, “representing 70 percent of Americans, are in low to medium community levels,” she said. “We continue to see indicators improve in many counties.”

A total of 23% of U.S. counties fall into the low-risk group, and 39% are medium-risk, Massetti said.

But, Walensky said, these guidelines could change at any time if numbers begin moving in the wrong direction.

“We recognize that we need to be flexible and to be able to relax our layered prevention measures when things are looking up,” she said. “And then we need to be able to dial them up again should we have a new variant or new surge.”

The CDC was criticized last year when it lifted face mask restrictions too soon, only to have the Delta variant sweep the nation. But this time, many health experts support the relaxation of face mask rules, The New York Times reported.

Show Sources

The Associated Press: “CDC to significantly ease pandemic mask guidelines Friday.”

The New York Times: “The C.D.C. will soon loosen indoor mask guidelines, officials say.”

The White House: “Press Briefing by White House COVID-⁠19 Response Team and Public Health Officials.”

Twitter: @CDCDirector, Feb. 24, 2022.

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