CDC to update mask guidance

The CDC is considering a shift to its indoor mask guidance that would rely more on COVID-19 hospitalizations as an indicator of whether masks are needed. 

Current CDC guidance recommends people wear masks indoors in communities with substantial or high transmission. About 98 percent of U.S. counties were in that category as of Feb. 16, according to transmission data. In a Feb. 16 COVID-19 briefing at the White House, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, said that as the omicron surge wanes, the agency is considering other metrics to inform mask guidance. 

"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 percent of our counties in the country — but critically, medically severe disease that leads to hospitalizations," she said. "We must consider hospital capacity as an additional important barometer."

The update could come as early as next week, people familiar with the matter told NBC News.

"We are assessing the most important factors based on where we are in the pandemic, and we'll soon put guidance in place that is relevant and encourages prevention measures when they are most needed to protect public health and our hospitals. We want to give people a break from things like mask-wearing, when these metrics are better, and then have the ability to reach for them again should things worsen," Dr. Walensky said. 

A number of states have rolled back mask mandates or set dates for when the mandates will be lifted since Feb. 7. The seven-day average for cases is currently about 147,000 per day, down 40 percent over the last week, Dr. Walensky said. Hospital admissions are averaging about 9,500 per day, down about 28 percent from the previous week.


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