CDC Director Rochelle Walensky announces changes in Covid-19 guidelines for Americans
Most Americans no longer need to wear face masks indoors after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its Covid-19 guidelines amid falling infections and hospitalisations across the US.
CDC Director Dr Rochelle Walensky announced the changes in a press conference on Friday afternoon, as the federal agency overhauled the metrics it uses to determine whether areas are at a high risk of the virus – and therefore whether restrictions should be in place in those areas.
Under the new metrics, more than half of all US counties, where 70 per cent of all Americans live, are deemed to be at low or medium risk and so are no longer advised to have indoor masking requirements.
This change also applies to schools, meaning only children and teachers in the highest risk communities are advised to keep wearing face masks in classrooms across the country.
The federal requirement that people must wear masks on public transport will remain in place for now. The mandate was previously extended through to 18 March and Dr Walensky said that the CDC will review the decision closer to that time.
“We are in a stronger place today as a nation to protect communities from Covid-19,” she said in the media call.
“We want to give people a break from things like mask wearing when risks are low,” she explained, adding that the measures can then be dialled up if or when the situation worsens within communities.
Under the new guidelines, a need for Covid-19 restrictions will be based on three factors: new hospitalisations, hospital capacity of Covid-19 patients and new cases.
These factors will then together determine whether counties are at a low, medium or high risk level.
Each level has a different set of guidance around restrictions, with masks only recommended in areas of the high risk level.
Under the old guidelines, only the number of cases was used to determine the need for restrictions.
As a result, around 95 per cent of all US counties fell under the criteria of being required to wear masks indoors.
Now, 23 per cent of counties are deemed low risk, 39 per cent medium risk and 37 per cent high risk.
Dr Walensky said that the new focus on hospitalisations and hospital capacity comes as officials look “beyond cases and positivity to severity of disease”.
She pointed out that during the surge of the Omicron variant, infections were high but the severity of illness and hospitalisations remained low.
She also pointed to the vaccination rates, with around 200 million Americans fully vaccinated and around 100 million having also received their booster shots.