The long-awaited guidance is finally here.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Friday significantly eased its mask recommendations, including for schools, as part of updated guidance for dealing with COVID-19.
Under the new guidelines, more than 70 percent of the U.S. population is in an area with “low” or “medium” COVID-19 community level, meaning masks are not recommended for the general public.
In areas with a “high” level — currently about 30 percent of the U.S. population — masks would still be recommended in public indoor settings, and under the “medium” level, people at higher risk are encouraged to talk to their doctor about wearing a mask.
Masking in schools has been an area of particularly heated debate. Under the new guidelines, universal masking in schools is now only recommended in areas with a “high” level.
The new guidelines are based more on preserving hospital capacity than the previous metrics, which focused on sheer case numbers, a reflection of a new phase of dealing with the pandemic as the wave of omicron infections has declined.
The new guidance received praise from many experts.
“The United States has reached an important milestone in ongoing efforts to combat COVID-19,” said Daniel McQuillen, president of the Infectious Diseases Society of America. “As COVID-19 case rates and hospitalization rates in the United States continue to decline, IDSA supports the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s update to its COVID-19 community guidance.”
Former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb tweeted the guidance was “well developed” and reflected “rising immunity in [the] population” and “declining overall risk.”
Given the impact on schools, the move also got noteworthy praise from American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten.
“We welcome these long-needed new metrics for a safe off-ramp from universal masking,” she said in a statement. “The CDC’s guidance is informed by science, not politics, and sets us on a path to a new normal in schools and other public places.”