CDC Updates Mask Guidance
Recycling face masks: used hygienic masks in the trash bin. - stock photo Elizabeth Fernandez via Getty Images
Elizabeth Fernandez via Getty Images

On Friday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its guidance on mask-wearing.

The Wall Street Journal reported, “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday changed the metrics it uses to assess Covid-19 risk by county across the U.S. Risk will now be assessed based on three factors, the CDC said: new Covid-19 cases per 100,000 residents in the past seven days; new Covid-19-related hospital admissions; and the percentage of hospital beds occupied by Covid-19 patients.”

The agency is now using three different levels to communicate the local level of COVID-19 risk: low, medium, and high. The agency will publish the levels for each county on its website.

The CDC noted, if the local level is low-risk, people should “[w]ear a mask based on your personal preference, informed by your personal level of risk”; if it is medium risk, immunocompromised or people at high risk for serious illness should speak with their health care provider about additional measures, like mask-wearing “or respirators indoors in public.” The agency added, for medium-risk areas, “If you live with or have social contact with someone at high risk for severe illness, consider testing yourself for infection before you get together and wearing a mask when indoors with them.”

For high-risk areas, the CDC said people should still wear a well-fitting mask inside in public, as well as in K-12 schools. If someone is immunocompromised or at severe risk, they should “[w]ear a mask or respirator that provides you with greater protection.”

The CDC’s guidance is a departure from previous guidelines, notably with school mask-wearing, as it only requires such activity in places where there is a high level of COVID-19.

“The CDC felt it could ease masking recommendations in schools because children are at relatively lower risk of severe disease and mostly have asymptomatic or mild infections, according to Greta Massetti, of the agency’s Covid-19 Response Incident Management Team,” the Journal noted.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said masking guidance could change again in the future. “We need to be able to relax our layered prevention measures when things are looking up,” she said. “And we need to be able to dial them again … should we have a new variant or surge.”

The Washington Post reported, “Officials said the framework would also provide individuals with an understanding of what precautions they should consider based on the level of disease in their community, their underlying risk, and their own risk tolerance.”

According to the new measurements, as of Thursday, almost 72% of the U.S. population are living in areas where the CDC doesn’t recommend overall indoor masking. The previous guidelines from the agency placed over 95% of U.S. counties under guidelines for indoor masking in public, per the Journal.

“Under the new standards, only about 28 percent of people live in high-level areas, 42 percent in medium areas and 30 percent in low areas. About 98 million Americans are now in the ‘low’ community level,” the Post added.

The CDC has faced criticism in recent weeks for an apparent lag in updated masking guidance as many states eased restrictions put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic. The new guidelines also notably place large areas of Florida in the high risk group.

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