Federal health officials say they will soon update COVID-19 masking guidance

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, testifies about the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, shown testifying before Congress in November, told reporters on Wednesday that her agency would soon issue new guidance on mask-wearing.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Federal health officials said Wednesday that they will soon update their guidance on mask wearing, even as several states have recently dialed back mandates requiring people to wear face coverings while indoors.

In a White House briefing with reporters, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the new guidance would encourage “prevention measures when they are most needed to protect public health and our hospitals.”

“We want to give people a break from things like mask wearing when these metrics are better, and then have the ability to reach for them again should things worsen,” she said, describing how the CDC was approaching the matter.


California Gov. Gavin Newsom relaxed the state’s universal indoor mask mandate this week, meaning that as of Wednesday, vaccinated people can forgo masks when indoors. New York Gov. Kathy Hochul lifted her state’s indoor mask mandate for businesses last week, and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy ended the requirement that students and school employees wear masks. The Democratic governors made the moves as they have come under increasing political pressure from constituents weary of two years of pandemic-related restrictions.

Walensky said the nation was on a “cautiously optimistic” trajectory in its battle against the highly contagious Omicron variant, with the seven-day average of new cases decreasing by 40% compared with the previous week. Hospital admissions declined by 28% over the previous week, she said.

About 75% of the country’s adults are fully vaccinated, and two-thirds have received a booster shot.

As the Omicron wave wanes, the Biden administration is considering the best next steps, said Jeff Zients, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator.

“As a result of all this progress and the tools we now have, we’re moving toward a time when COVID isn’t a crisis, but it’s something we can protect against and treat,” Zients said. “The president and our COVID team are actively planning for this future.”