The CDC is dropping their nationwide mask recommendation, leaving the decision for guidance up to local governments.
In a major change from past guidance, the CDC said that with COVID-19 transmission levels down in most of the country, the mask mandate is no longer needed for areas with low or medium case rates, which is currently about 70% of the country.
“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,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a press briefing Friday. “Should things get worse in the future, we, as the CDC, will continue to follow the science and epidemiology to make public health recommendations and guidance.”
States and localities, though, are able to continue mandating masks in public spaces. The new guidelines also do not apply to the federal requirement for masks on airplanes and in airports, which is currently set to expire on March 18. Walensky said that requirement will be reevaluated closer to that date.
Dr. Greta Massetti, from the CDC’s COVID-19 Response Incident Management Team, explained that they will now follow a new framework that looks at the rate of illness, hospitalization and hospital capacity to determine if the risk of COVID-19 is low, medium or high in parts of the U.S., and they will use that information to base their recommendations for mask wearing.
“These categories help individuals assess what impacts COVID-19 is having on their community so that they can decide if they need to take extra precautions, including masking based on their location, their health status, and their risk tolerance,” Massetti said.
The shift in guidance also includes schools, and the CDC is only recommending masks at schools in areas with high transmission rates.
The CDC’s guidance, though, can change if another variant emerges or if case rates go back up again.
“COVID-19 community levels and public health prevention strategies can be dialed up when our communities are experiencing more severe disease and dialed down when things are more stable,” Massetti said.
Massetti also emphasized that people can choose to continue wearing masks, and that people who are immunocompromised should talk to their doctors about what precautions they should take, based on their location. She also said that people who have COVID-19 symptoms, have tested positive or are close contacts of someone who tested positive should always wear a mask.
The new guidance comes amid public pressure to ease pandemic restrictions and as many Democratic governors lift their state’s mask mandates. And with more of the country now vaccinated against COVID-19 or with some level of antibodies from past infections, the hope is that the pandemic will become endemic.
Walensky emphasized, though, that COVID-19 has been unpredictable at times and Americans should keep in mind that they may need to go back to heavier restrictions.
“None of us know what, what the future may hold for us and for this virus. And we need to be prepared and we need to be ready for whatever comes next,” she said. “This new framework will provide the best way for us to judge what level of preventive measures may be needed in our communities, if or when new variance emerge or the virus surge. We have more ways to control the virus and protect ourselves and our communities than ever before.”
Do whatever you have to do to protect yourself — it’s every person for themselves at this point.