CDC significantly relaxes pandemic mask guidelines on Friday – KXAN Austin

President Joe Biden removes his face mask to speak in the South Court Auditorium of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex, Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration will significantly relax federal mask-wearing guidelines to protect against COVID-19 transmission on Friday, according to two people familiar with the matter, which means most Americans will no longer be invited. to wear masks in indoor public places.

On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will announce a change in the metrics it uses to determine whether to recommend face coverings, moving from looking at the number of COVID-19 cases to taking a more holistic view of the risk of coronavirus for a community. Under current guidelines, masks are recommended for people residing in communities with substantial or high transmission — about 95% of U.S. counties, according to the latest data.

The new measures will still take into account the number of cases, but will also take into account hospitalizations and local hospital capacity, which were markedly improved during the emergence of the omicron variant. This strain is highly transmissible, but appears to be less severe than earlier strains, especially for fully vaccinated and boosted people. 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.

The new policy comes as the Biden administration focuses on preventing serious illness and death from COVID-19, rather than all cases 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 condition of anonymity to preview the CDC’s action ahead of the announcement.

The change comes as nearly all US states that had indoor mask-wearing mandates in place for omicron’s winter surge are letting them expire as cases fell precipitously nationwide. Some have eliminated mandates entirely, while others have kept mask-wearing requirements in place for schools and medical facilities.

It was not immediately clear how the new CDC guidelines would affect US federal mandates requiring face coverings on public transportation.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said a change is afoot.

“Hospital capacity should be considered as an important additional barometer. Our hospitals must be able to care for people who have heart attacks and strokes. Our emergency departments cannot be so overwhelmed that patients with emerging issues have to line up,” 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 declined Thursday to confirm a release date.

“At @CDCgov, we’ve analyzed our #COVID19 data and focused on preventing the most severe outcomes and reducing pressure on healthcare,” Walensky tweeted late Thursday, without giving details on the issue. Friday announcement.

AP writer Mike Stobbe contributed.

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