90% of population now in communities where masks not needed: CDC

More than 90 percent of the U.S. population now lives in an area with low or medium COVID-19 community level, indicating masks are not needed, according to a March 3 update from the CDC. 

The agency eased indoor mask guidance Feb. 25, now relying on an area's COVID-19 community level — determined by new COVID-19 hospitalizations, current beds occupied by COVID-19 patients or hospital capacity, and new cases — as a guide for prevention measures in each level. Previous guidance relied more on transmission rates alone to determine when masks are recommended. 

Under the new framework, the CDC recommends people wear masks indoors in counties that have a high COVID-19 community level, meaning there is a high level of severe disease and high potential for the area's healthcare system to become strained. While the new guidelines indicate COVID-19's effect on a community is minimal enough that people do not need to wear masks in the two lower categories, agency Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, said, "We should all keep in mind that some people may choose to wear a mask based on personal preference," during a news conference announcing the new guideline framework.

The latest update is in increase from the 70 percent of the population the CDC said was living in areas in the low or medium category Feb. 25, signaling COVID-19's effect on local hospitals and healthcare systems continues to lessen. The agency said it will update COVID-19 community level data on Thursdays moving forward. 


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