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CDC studies advice for easing mask rules as states drop them

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, left, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, speaks to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House's chief medical adviser. (Greg Nash/Pool/ABACAPRESS.COM/TNS)

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention experts are developing guidance to help states ease COVID-19 rules for mask-wearing, even as U.S. health officials said it’s still premature to dispense of the measures, as some governors are doing.

“We are working on that guidance,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said Wednesday in a White House press call, cautioning that “our hospitalizations are still high, our death rates are still high. So as we work towards that, and as we are encouraged by the current trends, we are not there yet.”

Numerous Democratic-leaning states are already dropping or scaling back such restrictions. New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said the state will end its indoor mask mandate, and Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker said a school masking requirement will be allowed to expire. New Jersey, Delaware and Connecticut have all announced moves this week to ease or end mandates amid rising public discontent with pandemic rules.

The U.S. is averaging about 250,000 new COVID-19 cases a day, down two-thirds from highs of mid-January but still at levels that would once have been a record. The seven-day average of new COVID-19 hospital admissions is 13,066, down 25% from the week prior. Deaths, however, are a lagging indicator and remain high at about 2,400 people per day.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told CNN Wednesday that the administration continues to weigh whether to relax measures such as mask mandates for travel, when appropriate.

“We’re constantly and continually reassessing, based on the public health guidance and the facts on the ground,” he said. “When we have the guidance saying that’s the right thing to do, I will be as relieved as any traveling American that we can move on to the next phase.”

The U.S. now has tools to manage the virus, White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients said in the call.

“We’re moving toward a time when COVID won’t disrupt our daily lives,” he said, “a time when COVID won’t be a constant crisis, but rather will be something we can protect against and treat.”


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