- The Washington Times - Friday, February 25, 2022

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has significantly relaxed its mask guidance in a major update to its COVID-19 rules, pivoting to a system in which hospitalizations and hospital capacity are considered instead of transmission alone.

The change means that 71% of Americans live in parts of the U.S. where the CDC no longer recommends universal masking.

The new, three-tiered system advises all people to wear a mask indoors if their county is considered “high” risk due to a significant number of patients, fewer available hospitals beds and elevated transmission — a description that applies to 37% of counties. The previous guidance, which looked at transmission alone, applied to 95% of the country.

Just shy of 40% of counties fall into a medium category, in which the CDC said high-risk persons such as the immunocompromised wear a mask, while 23% of counties are in the lowest category and don’t need to mask.

Officials said the easing omicron surge and high levels of immunity around the nation prodded them to take a more holistic view of guidance, as leaders attempt to pivot from a hair-on-fire pandemic phase to treating the virus as something that needs to be managed like other infectious diseases.

“It’s not just cases, it is cases as well as hospitalization as well as hospital burden. It is the intersection of all of them,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said when making the announcement Friday.

For more information, visit The Washington Times COVID-19 resource page.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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