Most people in the US can drop the masks, the Center for Disease Control has decided in a major pandemic shift. A change in metrics means wearing a mask to prevent the spread of the coronavirus now is recommended for less than a third of the population, the agency said Friday. The new standards are an adjustment to the way the pandemic has shifted, with a more highly vaccinated population dealing with the omicron variant, which is less severe than previous ones, Axios reports. They're also a move away from the heavy reliance on case counts as an indicator of when restrictions or precautions are needed.
Instead, the number of hospitalizations and local hospital capacity will be given more weight, per NBC. The CDC now recommends universal masking only in places that have high COVID community levels under the new metrics. At the moment, only about 28% of people in the US live in a county where they need to wear masks indoors, per CNN. More than 70% of the population is in places with low or medium community levels of COVID-19, where the CDC doesn't urge masking indoors except for those at increased risk of the disease. The change applies to students in school, too.
The agency also uses data from modeling and past surges. "With widespread population immunity, the overall risk of severe disease is now generally lower," Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC's director, said Friday, per CNBC. Better coronavirus testing and the availability of new treatments influenced the decision. "We're in a stronger place today as a nation with more tools to protect ourselves," Walensky said. (Read more face masks stories.)