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CDC relaxes COVID mask guidelines — but it depends where you live. What to know

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention headquarters in Atlanta. (Dreamstime/TNS)

In a major update, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention eased its mask guidelines in place to curb the spread of COVID-19 — after several states moved to lift their mandates in recent weeks — on Friday, Feb. 25.

It depends on COVID-19 levels where you are.

Now, it’s no longer advised to wear masks in public when indoors for most who are healthy in the United States, the agency says, based on new metrics being considered to “help communities decide what prevention steps to take based on the latest data,” the agency announced at a news briefing.

About 70% of the U.S. is living in an area with low or medium COVID-19 community levels, according to the agency, as of Feb. 24. Those who are healthy in these areas aren’t recommended to mask up in indoor public settings.

This is based on a new tool the CDC unveiled called COVID-19 Community Levels that shows transmission rates in counties and analyzes data on “hospital beds being used, hospital admissions, and the total number of new COVID-19 cases in an area.”

Here’s what to know

Masks are still required for public transportation such as on planes and trains, the CDC said during the briefing.

“People may choose to mask at any time. People with symptoms, a positive test, or exposure to someone with COVID-19 should wear a mask,” the CDC says.

In areas of high COVID-19 levels, the CDC recommends masking up in indoor public places, including schools.

For those living in locations with medium levels, the CDC suggests consulting with a health care provider if you’re at a “potential increased risk” of contracting severe COVID-19.

A mask isn’t recommended for those living in communities with low COVID-19 levels. However, the CDC still says to get vaccinated, boosted, and tested if experiencing virus symptoms.

“We are in a stronger place today as a nation with more tools today to protect ourselves and our community from COVID-19 like vaccination, boosters, broader access to testing, availability of high-quality masks, accessibility to new treatments, and improved ventilation,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said.

Before the latest update in mask recommendations, the CDC advised everyone 2 years or older who isn’t “up to date” on vaccinations to mask up indoors while in public. For those in areas of “substantial or high transmission” the agency said “people might choose to wear a mask outdoors when in sustained close contact with other people.”

Walensky formerly hinted at a change in mask recommendations during a Feb. 16 White House briefing.

“We must consider hospital capacity as an additional important barometer. Our hospitals need to be able to take care of people with heart attacks and strokes,” Walensky said. “Our emergency departments can’t be so overwhelmed that patients with emergent issues have to wait in line.”


© 2022 McClatchy Washington Bureau

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.