Most Americans Don’t Currently Need to Wear a Mask Indoors, Under New CDC Guidance

Today, mask-wearing is no longer recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Using a new method to determine community risk, more than half of U.S. counties—home to about 70% of the nation’s population—do not currently meet the threshold for recommended universal indoor masking, CDC officials said during a press briefing today. (You can search your county’s COVID-19 risk level here.)

“With widespread population immunity, the overall risk of severe disease is now, generally, lower,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said during the briefing. She stated that the CDC now focuses on preventing serious disease and straining health care, rather than just stopping new infections. The agency now determines an area’s risk based on its hospitalization rates, health care capacity, and the rate of new cases, instead of just case numbers and test positivity rates.
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The only counties identified as high-risk are those that require universal indoor masking. Officials at the CDC stated that schools are allowed to follow these guidelines. People can choose to wear masks if necessary, but the CDC strongly advises anyone with COVID-19 symptoms that they do so. The CDC also urges Americans to stay up-to-date on their COVID-19 vaccinations regardless of their community’s risk level.)

Masking does not apply for airplanes, trains or transit centers. There, masking must still be required under a federal mandate until at least March 18.

The change comes just weeks after Walensky said, on Feb. 9, that it was too soon to alter the agency’s mask guidelines given high rates of infection and death, even though some states were ending mandates. Since then, the average number of cases has dropped from more than 210,000 per day to around 75,000 per daily as of February 23. Since Feb. 9, the average number of deaths has fallen to about 1,500 daily, from 2,500 in February and up to 2,500 in February.

In May 2021 the CDC was widely criticized for stating that indoor masks were no longer necessary for vaccinated Americans. Experts called the move premature. In fact, this was just before the Delta version caused cases and hospitalizations surged over the summer. Omicron caused a larger increase in the number of cases just a few months later.

The latest shift in guidance is also sure to be controversial, pitting those who feel it’s time to live with COVID-19 against those who argue it’s too soon to abandon pandemic precautions, given that tens of thousands of people are still infected by the virus every day and vaccines are not yet authorized for the nation’s youngest children. Which side is correct remains to be seen—but during the press briefing, Walensky acknowledged that guidance could change in the future.

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


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