Just as Dr. Rochelle Walensky had hinted a little more than a week ago, the CDC on Friday finally eased its masking guidance for schools and other public areas, liberating millions of Americans from strict requirements that mandated mask wearing in most - if not all - public places.
According to the updated guidance, more than 70% of the US now falls under the "low" or "medium" COVID community level, meaning masks aren't recommended for use by the general public.
In areas with a "high" level of spread (currently about 30% of the US population) masks would still be recommended in public indoor settings, and under the "medium" level, people at higher risk are encouraged to speak with their doctor about wearing a mask. But under the "medium" and "low" areas, the CDC doesn't recommend masking.
Readers can find a breakdown of the new guidelines below:
And here's a breakdown of how those levels correspond to different parts of the US.
Under the new guidelines, universal masking in schools - a subject of particularly intense debate - is now only recommended in areas with a "high" level of community spread.
“This updated approach focuses on directing our prevention efforts toward protecting people at high risk for severe ailments and preventing hospitals and healthcare systems from being overwhelmed,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC’s director, told reporters on a call.
Walensky said the CDC “came up with indicators, including new hospital admissions and hospital beds utilized” and combined “them with case incidents to really create a packet of metrics to be able to understand what’s happening at the local level.”
According to the CDC, the new guidelines were designed with hospital capacity in mind, unlike the previous metrics, which were focused on overall case numbers, a reflection of a new phase of dealing with the pandemic as the wave of omicron infections has declined.
The 7-day average for new cases in the US was 74,750 on Thursday, down sharply from levels that topped 1 million per day in January. Hospitalizations are also falling, and death counts have begun declining, too. One reason for the sharp drop in cases is that Americans are now more frequently testing themselves.
The new federal guidance comes after governors across the country have ditched their masking guidance, while many liberal cities have done the same (even notorious holdout LA County has just begun to "relax" its masking policy).
Dr. Walensky said people can still wear masks if they want, but that the US is in "a stronger place as a nation."
"We are in a stronger place as a nation when it comes to protecting our communities and ourselves against severe disease because of our efforts – like vaccination, improvements in testing, high quality masks, and improved ventilation – and because of living with this virus for two years."
"The overall risk of severe disease is now generally lower. Still, the virus will continue to circulate in our communities, and we must prevent COVID-19 from overwhelming our hospitals and healthcare systems."
Meanwhile, Jeffrey Zients, a White House official, did not deny the White House had been in touch with the CDC on revising its masking recommendations but said the CDC was "in the lead here on both the substance and the timing of masking guidance," per the Epoch Times.
More than 35 states had already ditched their masking requirements, according to the National Academy for State Health Policy. Some, largely Republican-led states, never allowed local officials or school districts to impose masking requirements in the first place.
The question many want to get an answer to now is... when will the airplane mask mandate end?