The majority of Americans live in areas where they can take a break from wearing masks, even students at schools. This is according to new U.S. guidelines.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced the new measures for communities where COVID-19 has loosened its grip. They will be focusing less on positive results and more on what’s going on at hospitals.
The new system drastically changes the look and feel of the CDC’s risk maps. It places more than 70% of Americans in areas where the coronavirus poses a low to medium threat to hospitals. The agency stated that these are people who can no longer wear masks.
The agency still advises people to wear masks in areas where COVID-19 risk is high, even schoolchildren. This is the case in 37% of U.S. county, where 28% of Americans live.
These new recommendations don’t change the requirement that masks be worn on public transport and indoors at stations, bus stops and train stations. The CDC guidelines aren’t binding for indoor spaces other than public transportation. This means that cities and institutions, even those in low-risk areas, may establish their own rules. The agency also stated that masks should not be removed from people who have COVID-19 symptoms, or are positive for the disease.
The CDC stated that the overall risk for severe diseases is decreasing with protection against immunity increasing — both from infection and vaccination.
In a news conference, Dr. Rochelle Wilensky, Director of the CDC said that anyone is welcome to wear a face mask at any time if it makes them feel more secure. “We want to ensure that our hospitals are safe and that people don’t come in with severe diseases. … Anyone can visit the CDC website to find out the number of diseases in their area and then make a decision.
While some states like New Jersey, Connecticut, and Massachusetts are at low-to-medium risk, others like West Virginia, Kentucky and Florida still have large areas of high concern.
CDC’s previous transmission-prevention guidance to communities focused on two measures — the rate of new COVID-19 cases and the percentage of positive test results over the previous week.
A based on these measures, agency officials advised people wearing masks indoors in countries where the spread of the virus is considered high or substantial. These measures have listed more than 3,000 counties in the country as having high or substantial transmission as of this week.
However, this guidance is increasingly being ignored by states, cities and counties across the U.S., who announce plans to eliminate mask mandates amid falling COVID-19 hospitalizations, deaths, and COVID-19 case numbers.
Andrew Noymer, a professor of public health at the University of California Irvine, stated that the CDC’s shift will not make much difference as Americans are already taking off their masks. He said that it will be helpful if the next wave, which is likely to occur in the fall or winter, threatens hospital capacity.
“There will be more COVID waves. Noymer stated that it was sensible to allow people to take a break from masking. “If we keep on giving masking orders, it might become a joke when we actually need them.”
To help local officials and residents, the CDC has created a color-coded mapping system that includes counties marked as yellow, green, or orange. Local officials in green counties can remove indoor masking regulations. People at high risk of severe diseases should be cautious if they are yellow. The CDC recommends that masking should be done in all places.
The rate at which a county is deemed green, yellow, or orange depends on the number of COVID-19 patient admissions and the percentage of hospital beds that are staffed by COVID-19 patients. It also determines the rate at which new cases are being filed in the county.
Some counties, such as Boulder County in Colorado, have seen their risk reduced by taking into account hospital data.
In the United States, mask requirements have been lifted in many places in recent weeks. Los Angeles allowed people to take off their masks indoors on Friday if they were vaccinated. In Washington and Oregon, indoor mask requirements will be lifted by the end of March.
Florida’s governor announced Thursday new recommendations, “Buck the CDC”, that discourage the wearing of masks as a sign the political divisions surrounding masks.
Acting health secretary Keara Klinepeter in Pennsylvania urged people with weak immune systems to show patience and grace if they choose to keep their masks on public. Because she is pregnant, she said that she will continue wearing a mask.
Dr. Marcus Plescia of The Association of State and Territorial Health Officials stated that state health officials are generally happy with the new guidance and “excited about how this is being implemented.”
“This is where we should go. Plescia stated that this is moving us in a new direction regarding the pandemic. But we are still focusing on safety. We are still focusing on the prevention of death and illness.
The CDC stated that the new system can be used to predict future surges. It also urged communities with wastewater surveillance systems, to make use of this data.
Walensky stated that “if or when new viruses emerge, we have more options to protect ourselves or our communities than ever before.”