New CDC guidelines suggest 70% of Americans can stop wearing masks

On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention proposed a new strategy to help communities across the country live with the c...


On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention proposed a new strategy to help communities across the country live with the coronavirus and return to a version of normal life.

The new guidelines suggest that 70% of Americans can now stop wearing masks and no longer need to socially distance or avoid crowded indoor spaces.

Recommendations no longer rely solely on the number of cases in a community to determine the need for restrictions such as mask-wearing. Instead, they direct counties to consider three metrics to assess virus risk: new Covid-related hospital admissions over the previous week and the percentage of hospital beds occupied by Covid patients. , as well as 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 high-risk areas should require everyone to wear a mask. But unvaccinated people should wear masks even in low-risk areas, the agency said.

The agency had approved universal masking in schools since July, regardless of the virus level in the community, but the new guidelines recommend masking in schools only in high-risk counties.

The new guidelines are released as the coronavirus recedes across the country. The number of cases fell to levels not seen before the surge of the Omicron variant, and hospitalizations plummeted. Around 58,000 people are hospitalized with Covid nationwide, but those numbers have dropped by around 44% in the past two weeks.

Several experts said the new guidelines were appropriate for the country’s current situation. Although the number of cases nationwide is still high, “we’re well past the surge,” said Linsey Marr, an aerosol scientist at Virginia Tech. “We no longer need to operate in emergency mode.”

But many places have already dropped pandemic restrictions. Most states have relaxed mask-wearing rules and some, like New Jersey, have announced plans to lift mandates even in schools. Others are set to end indoor mask mandates in the coming weeks. An official CDC recommendation could have some influence in districts that have been more cautious.

According to the CDC’s previous criteria, 95% of counties in the United States were considered high risk. Under the new criteria, less than 30% 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, CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told reporters on Friday.

“We want to give people a break from things like masking when our levels are low, and then have the flexibility to reach them again if things get worse in the future,” she said. “We have to be prepared and we have to be ready for whatever comes next.”

Those who are particularly vulnerable because of their age, medical condition or occupation may choose to take extra precautions, regardless of the level of risk in their community, she added.

The availability of high-quality masks such as N95 respirators allows people at high risk to continue to protect themselves even if others around them do not take precautions, Dr Marr said.

She added that it is good that the agency continues to monitor cases because hospital rates can fall behind by two to three weeks. “By the time hospitals are overwhelmed, it’s too late,” she said.

But Dr. Walensky said CDC scientists tested models with data from previous surges to confirm that the new risk calculation method would have detected surges early.

Omicron’s push made it clear that because so many Americans have some immunity to the virus through vaccinations or previous infection, counties can see high numbers of yet relatively few cases that involve serious illness. . The new guidelines nod to that reality and allow for a more sustainable approach to living with the virus, public health experts have said.

“It just seemed wrong for the whole country to be one shade of red,” said Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Although a growing number of political leaders, public health experts and ordinary citizens now support easing restrictions, at least temporarily, others remain wary. They note that millions of people in the United States – including children under 5 – and billions around the world are still unvaccinated, making the emergence of a dangerous new variant not only possible but likely.

The CDC and Biden administration have declared victory prematurely before, including last spring when they told vaccinated Americans they could skip masks and celebrate a “freedom summer,” only to see the Delta variant. sending hospitalizations and deaths skyrocketing again.

The White House is working on a pandemic exit strategy that would help Americans live with the virus. But Dr Walensky said just two weeks ago that he was no time to get up yet mask mandates. And some CDC and Department of Health and Human Services officials are concerned about the changing guidelines, according to an administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Some public health experts have also balked at the easing of restrictions, noting that the country records around 1,900 Covid-related deaths every day, that children under the age of 5 still do not have vaccines available to them and that a significant number of Americans remain at high risk due to their age, health status or occupation.

The agency’s new guidelines do not specify if and for how long people who test positive for the virus should self-isolate, noted Dr. Robby Sikka, who chairs the Covid-19 Sports and Society Working Group, an organization that oversees the safety of professional sports teams. .

A study released by the CDC on Friday suggested that about half of those who tested positive remained contagious after five days — the length of isolation that the agency currently recommends. “If people self-isolate for five days, or even worse, we let them go, it’s possible we have the potential to see cases increase,” Dr Sikka said.

Even people who don’t get seriously ill can suffer the long-term consequences of an infection, noted ZoĆ« McLaren, a health policy expert at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. “We are developing a pandemic policy on the assumption that the massive infection that occurred during the Omicron wave has little or no impact on the health of the population, but there are more and more evidence that Covid infection often has lingering health effects,” she said.

In an open letter to elected officials, a group of 400 public health and education experts opposite pushing to lift indoor mask mandates, saying it was “premature and threatens to put children, their school communities and families at greater risk of illness, disability and death”.

“The challenge at the moment is that we have to take into account, certainly, the hospital capacity, but we also have to take into account vaccination rate among children, among adults,” said Sonali Rajan, an expert in school health programs at Columbia University and one of the letter’s authors.

Ideally, the CDC would continue to refine its community risk assessment models, including incorporating signals from wastewater testing and other approaches, said Harvard building quality expert Joseph Allen. TH Chan School of Public Health.

“One thing is clear, there is no clear limit for any of these measures,” Dr. Allen said. “I hope CDC avoids this pitfall again.”

Zolan Kanno-Youngs contributed report.

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Newsrust - US Top News: New CDC guidelines suggest 70% of Americans can stop wearing masks
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