Biden Administration to Relax Face Mask Guidelines: Reports

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Editor’s note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape’s Coronavirus Resource Center.

The Biden administration plans to relax COVID-19 face mask guidelines, meaning most people won’t be advised to wear masks indoors in public places, The Associated Press reported, citing two people familiar with the matter.

The expected change in guidance will occur as the CDC alters the metrics on which it bases its mask recommendations, according to the AP.

The current metrics are based on COVID-19 case counts. As of now, face masks are recommended in public places such as gyms and movie theaters in communities of substantial or high transmission. That’s more than 95% of counties in the United States.

The upcoming guidance will take COVID-related hospitalizations and local hospital capacity into account as well, the AP reported. With the updated guidelines, most Americans will not be living in communities where indoor masking is recommended.

The news comes as state and local governments across the country are starting to relax their own face mask requirements as the surge in Omicron cases subsides. A change in CDC guidance would pave the way for widespread loosening of face mask rules in schools, businesses, and local and state governments.

About 60,000 people are hospitalized with COVID-related cases nationwide, but the number of those hospitalized with COVID has gone down 44% in the last two weeks, The New York Times reported

Last week, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said more emphasis would be put on hospitalizations in setting COVID policies.

“As we consider future metrics, which will be updated soon, we recognize the importance of not just cases which continue to result in substantial or high community transmission in over 97% of our counties in the country, but critically, medically severe disease that leads to hospitalizations,” she said in a Feb. 16 news briefing at the White House. 

“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.”

In a Thursday tweet, Walensky didn’t say indoor masking rules would be relaxed, only that “community metrics help determine when & where to reach for extra precautions, like masks and testing.”

The CDC was criticized last year when it lifted face mask restrictions too soon, only to have the Delta variant sweep the nation. But this time, many health experts support the relaxation of face mask rules, the Times reported.

Sources:

The Associated Press: “CDC to significantly ease pandemic mask guidelines Friday.”

The New York Times: “The C.D.C. will soon loosen indoor mask guidelines, officials say.”

The White House: “Press Briefing by White House COVID-19 Response Team and Public Health Officials.”

Twitter: @CDCDirector, Feb. 24, 2022.

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