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

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

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday offered a new strategy to help communities across the country live with the coronavirus and get back to some version of normal life.

New guidelines suggest that 70 percent Americans can now stop wearing masks, and no longer need to social 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 wearing masks. Instead, they direct counties to consider three measures to assess virus risk: new COVID-related hospital admissions in the past week and the percentage of hospital beds occupied by COVID patients, as well as the percentage of hospital beds occupied by COVID patients in the past week. New coronavirus cases per 100,000 people compared to the week. ,

According to the agency, based on these three factors, counties can calculate whether the risk to their residents is low, medium or high, 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 supported universal masking in schools from July regardless of the level of the virus in the community, but the new guidelines recommend masking only in schools in high-risk counties.

New guidelines are being issued as the coronavirus retreats across the country. The number of cases not seen before the surge of the Omicron version has fallen, and hospitalizations are pouring in. Around 58,000 people are hospitalized with Covid across the country, but those numbers have dropped by about 44 percent in the past two weeks.

Several experts said that the new guidelines were appropriate for the current situation in the country. Although the number of cases nationwide is still high, “we are well ahead of 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 imposed pandemic restrictions. Most states have relaxed mask-wearing rules, and some have announced plans to lift the mandate in schools, like New Jersey. Others are poised to end the indoor mask mandate in the coming weeks. An official CDC recommendation could have some effect in districts that have been more cautious.

Under the CDC’s previous criteria, 95 percent of counties in the United States were considered high risk. Using the new criteria, less than 30 percent of Americans are living in high-risk areas, the agency said.

CDC Director Dr Rochelle Valensky told reporters on Friday that the new set of guidelines provides a framework for people to adopt precautions as virus levels change.

“We want to give people a break from things like masking when our levels are low, and then having the ability to access them when things get worse in the future,” she said. “We need to be prepared and we need to be ready for anything that comes next.”

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He added that people who are particularly vulnerable because of their age, health condition or occupation can choose to take extra precautions regardless of the level of risk in their community.

Dr Mar said the availability of high-quality masks such as N95 respirators allows high-risk individuals to continue to protect themselves, even when others around them do not take precautions.

He said it was good that the agency would continue to monitor cases as hospital rates could be as low as two to three weeks. “By the time hospitals are overwhelmed, it’s too late,” she said.

But Dr. Valensky said CDC scientists tested the model with data from previous surges to confirm that the new method of calculating risk may have detected the surge early.

The omicron surge made it clear that since so many Americans have some immunity to the virus through vaccination or prior infection, counties can see higher numbers of cases and still have comparatively few associated severe disease. Public health experts said the new guidelines point to that reality, and allow for a more sustainable approach to living with the virus.

“It just seemed wrong that the whole country was a 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 the easing of restrictions – at least temporarily, others are still wary. They note that millions of people in the United States — including children under the age of 5 — and billions of people around the world remain unvaccinated, making the rise of a dangerous new variant not only possible but possible. .

The CDC and the Biden administration have declared victories ahead of schedule, including last spring, when they told vaccinated Americans they could go mask-free and celebrate the “summer of freedom,” with only the Delta version being hospitalized. To be admitted and revisited the deaths.

The White House is working on a pandemic exit strategy that will help Americans live with the virus. But Dr. Valensky said only two weeks ago that the time has not yet come to lift the mandate of the mask. And some officials at the CDC and the Department of Health and Human Services are nervous about the changing guidance, according to an administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

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Some public health experts also stressed the easing of restrictions, given that the country is recording nearly 1,900 Covid-related deaths every day, with children under the age of 5 still not having vaccines available for them, And significant numbers of Americans remain at high risk. their age, health condition or profession.

The agency’s new guidelines do not specify whether people who test positive for the virus should isolate themselves, Dr. Robbie Sikka, who chairs the COVID-19 Sports and Society Working Group, an organization that oversees the safety of professional sports teams. ,

A study published Friday by the CDC suggested that nearly half of those who tested positive remained infectious after five days — the length of isolation the agency currently recommends. “If people isolate for five days, or worse, we let people go, it’s possible that we have the potential to see an increase in cases,” Dr Sikka said.

Even people who do not become seriously ill can suffer long-term consequences from the infection, said Zoe McLaren, a health policy expert at the University of Maryland in Baltimore County. “We are creating pandemic policy on the assumption that large-scale infections during the omicron wave have no health consequences for the population, but there is increasing evidence that COVID infections often have persistent health effects. ,” He said.

In an open letter to elected officials, a group of 400 experts in public health and education opposed the push to lift the indoor mask mandate, saying it was “premature and could prevent children, their school communities and their families from getting sick.” threatened to put you at greater risk for death, disability, and death.”

Sonali Rajan, an expert on school health programs at Columbia University and one of the authors, said: “The challenge right now is that we certainly need to consider hospital capacity, but we also need to consider immunization among children as adults. is required.” of letter.

Ideally, CDC will continue to refine its models for assessing risk in communities, including incorporating signals from wastewater analysis and other approaches, said Joseph Joseph, a building quality specialist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Allen said.

“One thing is clear, there is no bright line cutoff for any of these metrics,” Dr. Allen said. “I hope CDC avoids that pitfall again.”

Zolan Kanno-Youngs Contributed to reporting.

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