The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is considering changes to its mask policy as the pandemic in the US improves, said Director Rochelle Walensky, who hinted at a possible lifting of its recommendation to mask up indoors, according to Business Insider.
Walensky said in a White House briefing on Wednesday that the CDC is now considering hospital capacity as a critical benchmark for gauging the pandemic’s severity and that this would be an essential factor in determining its guidance measures in the coming weeks.
“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,” Walensky said.
Community transmission remains high throughout the US, but organizations across the country have been lifting mask mandates as Omicron cases continue to fall and hospitalization rates stabilize.
California on Wednesday removed its indoor mask requirement for vaccinated persons, though children have to remain masked in school for at least another two weeks. New York also announced that it was dropping its indoor mask-or-vaccine mandates earlier this month.
And starting Thursday, vaccinated people visiting the Disney World theme park in Florida will no longer be required to wear masks indoors or outdoors.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, who is President Biden’s chief medical adviser, said at Wednesday’s briefing that the country’s health officials are “very carefully” monitoring if they will update policies to require a fourth shot for mRNA vaccines.
He presented data showing that the protection against severe disease from the Moderna and Pfizer booster shots wanes from around 90% to 78% within four months, which he noted is still a “good” level of protection.
With cases and hospitalizations on a sharp decline, “vaccination and boosting will be critical in maintaining that downward trajectory,” Fauci said.
COVID-19 hospitalizations in the US this week fell 28% from the week before, while deaths related to the coronavirus have decreased 9%, she said.
“If and when we update our guidance, we will communicate that clearly, and it will be based on the data and science,” she added.
The CDC currently recommends wearing face masks while indoors, regardless of vaccination status. The US also requires people wear a mask while taking public transport and flights.
Walensky noted there are still times when it’s essential to wear a mask, such as when someone shows COVID-19 symptoms or feels unwell, is within 10 days of testing positive for the coronavirus, or if they were exposed to someone in COVID-19 quarantine.
“We all share the same goal: To get to a point where COVID-19 is no longer disrupting our daily lives, a time when it won’t be a constant crisis rather than something we can prevent, protect against, and treat,” Walensky said.