WASHINGTON—The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has updated its U.S. guidelines regarding COVID-19, including its mask guidance, reports the Associated Press. Americans who live in an area where the coronavirus is posing a low or medium threat to hospitals can stop wearing masks, which means more than 70% of the nation’s population.
The CDC’s latest guidelines focus more on the virus’s impact on hospitals and less on positive test results, which greatly changes the CDC risk map. Previous guidance focused on the rate of new COVID-19 cases and the percentage of positive test results over the previous week.
The agency is still advising people, including schoolchildren, to wear masks where the risk of COVID-19 is high. That’s the situation in about 37% of U.S. counties, where about 28% of Americans live.
People must still wear masks on public transportation and indoors in airports, train stations and bus stations.
The CDC says that the level of protection from immunity is rising, so the overall risk of severe disease is now generally lower. “Anybody is certainly welcome to wear a mask at any time if they feel safer wearing a mask,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a news briefing. “We want to make sure our hospitals are OK, and people are not coming in with severe disease.”
If the CDC were measuring under previous guidance, more than 3,000 of the nation’s 3,200-plus counties—greater than 95%—would have substantial or high transmission.
“There will be more waves of COVID. And so, I think it makes sense to give people a break from masking,” Andrew Noymer, a public health professor at the University of California, told the AP. “If we have continual masking orders, they might become a total joke by the time we really need them again.”
Mask requirements were already dropped in most states before the CDC made its announcement. Los Angeles on Friday began allowing people to remove their masks while indoors if they are vaccinated, and indoor mask mandates in Washington state and Oregon will be lifted in late March.