CDC to significantly ease pandemic mask guidelines Friday
The Biden administration will significantly loosen federal mask-wearing guidelines to protect against coronavirus transmission on Friday, according to two people familiar with the matter, meaning most Americans will no longer be advised to wear masks in indoor public settings.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday will announce a change to the metrics it uses to determine whether to recommend face coverings, shifting from looking at case counts to a more holistic view of risk to a community. Under current guidelines, masks are recommended for people residing in communities of substantial or high transmission — roughly 95% of U.S. counties, according to the latest data.
The new metrics will still consider caseloads, but also take into account hospitalizations and local hospital capacity, which have markedly improved during the emergence of the Omicron variant. That strain is highly transmissible, but indications are that it is less severe than earlier strains, particularly for people who are fully vaccinated and boosted. Under the new guidelines, the vast majority of Americans will no longer live in areas where indoor masking in public is recommended, based on current data.
In Los Angeles County, the CDC’s new guidance could affect the decision on when a local indoor public mask mandate would be eliminated. Previously, it had been forecast to be lifted in mid- to late March.
L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Thursday that health officials plan to look at the CDC’s guidance when it’s released, but that it will take at least a few days to evaluate the agency’s newest recommendations. A proposed plan reacting to the CDC guidance will be discussed publicly with the Board of Supervisors at Tuesday’s meeting, Ferrer said.
It will probably take a week to discuss proposed changes to the mask order with business and labor groups, Ferrer said.
The new CDC policy comes as the Biden administration moves to shift its focus to preventing serious illness and death from COVID-19, rather than all instances of infection, as part of a strategy adjustment for a new “phase” in the response as the virus becomes endemic.
The two people familiar with the change spoke on the condition of anonymity to preview the CDC’s action before the announcement.
Even though there may no longer be a mask mandate, experts say it still makes sense to wear them inside because they offer strong protection.
The change comes as nearly all U.S. states that had put in place indoor mask mandates for the winter Omicron surge are letting them lapse as cases have precipitously dropped nationwide. Some have eliminated the mandates entirely, while others have kept mask requirements in place for schools and medical facilities.
It was not immediately clear how the new CDC guidance would affect U.S. federal mandates requiring face coverings on public transportation.
The CDC’s director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, has said a change has been in the works.
The coronavirus variant known as BA.2, or the ‘stealth Omicron,’ now causes more than a third of new Omicron infections around the world.
“We must consider hospital capacity as an additional important barometer. Our hospitals need to be able to take care of people with heart attacks and strokes. Our emergency departments can’t be so overwhelmed that patients with emergent issues have to wait in line,” she said during a White House briefing last week.
However, she declined to give a specific day when the CDC would announce a change. CDC officials on Thursday refused to confirm a release date.
Times staff writers Rong-Gong Lin II and Luke Money contributed to this report.
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