The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will lift mask recommendations for 70 percent of Americans, the agency announced Friday afternoon.
The agency has revised the calculations that determine whether an area is of ‘high’, ‘medium’ and ‘low’ risk from Covid. Previously, only infection rate was considered, while now hospitalization rate and hospital capacity will be the most valued metrics.
Under the currently installed metrics, only five percent of U.S. counties are not under a mask recommendation by federal regulators.
Because the main goal of pandemic mandates is to avoid the overwhelming of health care systems, gauging hospital capacity and rates of acute Covid are the most important, CDC officials explained.
Dr Rochelle Walensky, director of the agency, said that the move allows Americans to feel safe in dropping masks and other restrictions for now, when Covid is not as much of a threat as it was in the past.
It also leaves the door open for officials to bring back masks and other restrictions in the future in times where the pandemic situation becomes more dire, without overreacting to an uptick in mild cases.
The revised CDC guidelines moved the number of U.S. counties considered as ‘high’ or ‘substantial’ risk down to 30% (right) from 95% (left). The first map is the nation’s counties under initial calculations, while the second is the revised version unveiled by the CDC Friday afternoon
The CDC tiers its recommendations for people to live safely with Covid depending on their counties deemed risk level
‘Now as the virus continues to circulate in our community, who must focus our metrics beyond just cases in the community, and direct our efforts toward protecting people at high risk for severe illness, and preventing COVID-19 from overwhelming our hospitals and our health care system,’ Dr Walensky explained during a news briefing Friday.
Dr Rochelle Walensky (pictured) announced Friday that the CDC would change its calculations of risk levels in each U.S. county to now include – and value – hospitalization rates and hospital capacity
Under the revised calculations, now only 28.2 percent of the American population – living in 37 percent of counties – is still recommended to mask up in indoor, public, settings.
These counties are scattered throughout America, but include the entire state of West Virginia and much of its neighbor, Kentucky. Oregon and Montana have large portions of the state classified as ‘high’ risk as well.
Just under 30 percent of Americans live in an area of ‘low’ risk, with 39.6 percent of Americans suffering ‘medium’ Covid risk in their communities.
The ‘substantial’ categorization has been removed, seemingly joined with high.
While state and county level officials still have power to set mandates and regulations for their own jurisdiction, many, especially in blue states, generally follow CDC guidelines when making such decisions.
For areas considered to be of low risk, the CDC only recommends that people get vaccinated, but otherwise they can safely live their life as normal.
A person living in a place deemed to have medium risk can also live as normal, unless they are immunocompromised or have other serious comorbidities, in which they should mask in public places and talk to their doctor about other potential decisions to protect themselves.
People in high risk areas should mask in all indoor public places, including in schools.
The change comes as Covid cases, deaths and hospitalizations around the country crater. Omicron is also the most mild yet most infectious variant yet, meaning that high case figures during this surge are not as dangerous as they were during previous ones.
75,549 people are recording a Covid infection every day in America. This is a 35 percent fall over the past week, and a 92 percent drop since the Omicron surge peaked at 800,000 cases per day in mid-January.
Deaths are finally starting to plummet as well. On average, 1,742 Americans are dying from Covid daily, a 20 percent drop over the last seven days and a 30 percent drop for the peak of the Omicrons surge when around 2,500 Americans were succumbing to the virus daily.
Hospitalizations are generally an unreliable metric. Studies have found that anywhere from 25 to 50 percent of recording COVID-19 hospitalizations are actually people who were receiving treatment for another condition but tested positive while present.
This presents a problem for the CDC’s new metrics, though, as one of the primary figures for their new metric is not very reliable.
Isolating and masking at home when a household member is infected with Covid can reduce risk of transmission by 50%
A CDC study published on February 25 finds that Americans should isolate and mask at home after a household member tests positive for COVID-19
In a study that included Americans from Chicago, Connecticut, Utah and Wisconsin, they found that risk levels of household transmission was nearly 33% lower when people took precautions
Boosted and fully vaccinated people who lived with an infected person were less than 45% likely to contract the virus, compared to 64% of unvaccinated people
When the infected person in the household isolated, there was only a 41% chance of transmission, compared to a 68% risk for households that did not isolate the infected person
Mask wearing in the home was effective as well, with those who did not use masks 69% likely to spread the virus, compared to 40% for those that did use face coverings at home
Researchers believe that taking precautions even after a close contact is infected can still prevent infection. Americans are recommended to still do all they can to prevent transmission of the virus.