The C.D.C. releases new guidance that will allow localities to ease masking and social distancing.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday proposed a new strategy to help communities across the country survive the coronavirus and return to some version of normal life.
The new guidelines suggest that 70 percent of Americans can now stop wearing masks and no longer need to practice social distancing or avoid crowded spaces.
Recommendations no longer rely solely on the number of cases in a community to determine the need for restrictions, such as wearing masks. Instead, they direct counties to look at three metrics to assess their risk of exposure to the virus: new Covid-related hospital admissions in the previous week and the percentage of hospital beds occupied by Covid patients, and new coronavirus cases per 100,000 people in the previous week.
Based on these three factors, counties can calculate whether the risk to their residents is low, medium, or high, according to the agency, and only in high-risk areas should everyone wear a mask. But unvaccinated people must wear masks even in low-risk areas, the agency said.
Universal mask-wearing in schools has been approved by the agency since July, regardless of the level of virus in the community, but new guidance recommends masks be worn in schools only in high-risk districts.
New recommendations are being released as the coronavirus recedes across the country. The number of cases has fallen to levels not seen before the surge of the Omicron variant, and hospitalizations have plummeted. About 58,000 people are hospitalized with Covid across the country, but that number has dropped by about 44 percent in the past two weeks.
Several experts said the new guidelines are in line with the current situation in the country. While the number of cases across the country is still high, “we’re already past the surge,” said Lynsey Marr, an aerosol scientist at Virginia Tech. “We no longer need to work in emergency mode.”
But many places have already lifted pandemic restrictions. Most states have loosened mask rules, and some, like New Jersey, have announced plans to lift the requirement even in schools. Others are poised to lift the mandatory use of masks indoors in the coming weeks. The CDC’s official recommendation could impact areas that are more cautious.
According to previous CDC criteria, 95 percent counties are considered high risk in the United States. Under the new criteria, less than 30 percent of Americans live in high-risk areas, the agency said.
The new set of guidelines gives people a framework to adapt precautions as virus levels change, Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, director of the CDC, told reporters Friday.
“We want to give people a break from things like disguises when our levels are low, and then be able to call on them again if things get worse in the future,” she said. “We have to be ready, and we have to be ready for whatever comes next.”