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New CDC guidance suggests 70% of Americans can stop wearing masks

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday launched a new strategy to help communities across the country live with the coronavirus and return to some version of normal life.

The new guidelines show that 70% of Americans can now stop wearing masks and no longer need to social distance or avoid crowded spaces indoors.

Recommendations are no longer based solely on the number of cases in a community to determine the need for restrictive measures such as wearing a mask. Instead, they directed counties to consider three measures to assess virus risk: the number of new Covid-related hospitalizations in the last week and the proportion of hospital beds occupied by Covid patients, as well as new coronavirus infections per 100,000 people in the last week. .

Based on these three factors, counties can calculate whether the risk to their residents is low, moderate or high, according to the agency, and only high-risk areas require people to wear masks. . But unvaccinated people should wear masks even in low-risk areas, the agency said.

The agency has confirmed mask-wearing is common in schools since July, regardless of the level of the virus in the community, but the new guidelines recommend mask-wearing only in schools in at-risk counties. high.

New guidelines are being released as the coronavirus recedes across the country. The number of cases has dropped to levels never seen before the Omicron variant spiked, and hospitalizations are plummeting. About 58,000 people are hospitalized with Covid across the country, but these numbers have dropped by about 44% in the past two weeks.

Some experts say the new guidelines are appropriate for the country’s current situation. While the number of cases nationwide remains high, “we’ve passed the surge,” said Linsey Marr, an aerosol scientist at Virginia Tech. “We don’t need to operate in emergency mode anymore.”

But many places have adopted measures to limit the pandemic. Most states have relaxed their mask-wearing regulations, and some, like New Jersey, have announced plans to lift regulations even in schools. Others are getting ready to wrap up mask duties indoors in the coming weeks. An official recommendation from the CDC could sway districts that were more cautious.

According to previous CDC criteria, 95 percent of counties in the United States is considered high risk. The agency says that using the new criteria, less than 30% of Americans live in high-risk areas.

Dr Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, told reporters on Friday that the new set of guidelines provide people with a framework to adapt precautions as virus levels change.

“We want people to pause on things like wearing masks when our levels are low, and then have the ability to reach for them if things get worse in the future,” she said. “We need to be prepared and we need to be ready for whatever comes next.”

People who are particularly vulnerable because of age, health condition or occupation may choose to take additional precautions, she added, regardless of the level of risk in their community.

The availability of high-quality respirators such as N95 respirators allows high-risk individuals to continue to protect themselves even when those around are not taking precautions, Dr.

She added that it is very good that the agency will continue to monitor cases as hospital prices may slow down by two to three weeks. “By the time the hospitals are overwhelmed, it’s too late,” she said.

But Dr Walensky said CDC scientists tested models with data from previous spikes to confirm that the new risk calculation method would detect spikes early.

The rise of Omicron made it clear that because so many Americans have some immunity to the virus through vaccination or prior infection, counties may see high case numbers but relatively little association. related to serious illness. The new guidelines align with that reality and allow for a more sustainable approach to living with the virus, public health experts said.

“It doesn’t seem right that the whole country is just one red,” said Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University.

Although a growing number of political leaders, public health experts and ordinary citizens are advocating an easing of restrictions, at least temporarily, others remain wary. They note that millions of people in the United States – including children under the age of 5 – and billions around the world remain unvaccinated, making the emergence of a dangerous new variant not only possible. but is also possible.

The CDC and the Biden administration have claimed victory early on before, including last spring when they told vaccinated Americans they could go without masks and celebrate “the summer of freedom.” , only to see the Delta variant cause hospitalizations and deaths to skyrocket again.

The White House has been working on a pandemic exit strategy that can help Americans live with the virus. But Dr. Walensky said just two weeks ago that it was it’s not time to lift mask duty. And some officials in the CDC and the Departments of Health and Human Services are worried about the changing guidance, according to an administration official who asked not to be named.

Some public health experts are also unhappy with the easing of restrictions, noting that the country is recording about 1,900 Covid-related deaths a day, with children under the age of 5 still without a vaccine. and a large number of Americans remain at high risk because of their age, health condition or occupation.

Dr Robby Sikka, who chairs the Covid-19 Sports and Social Working Group, an organization that oversees the safety of professional sports teams. .

A study released Friday by the CDC found that about half of people tested positive still contagious after five days – the period of isolation recommended by the agency. Dr Sikka said: “If people are in quarantine for five days, or even worse, we just let people go, we are likely to see cases increase.

Zoë McLaren, a health policy expert at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, says even people who are not seriously ill can suffer long-term consequences from the infection. “We are formulating anti-pandemic policy assuming that mass transmission of the Omicron wave has little or no health consequences in the population, but there is growing evidence that Covid infections often cause persistent health effects,” she said.

In an open letter to elected officials, a group of 400 experts in the fields of education and public health protest push to lift mask-wearing duties in the home, saying it is “premature and risks putting children, school communities and their families at greater risk of illness, disability and death.”

“The challenge right now is that we need to look at, certainly, hospital capacity, but we also need to look at vaccination Sonali Rajan, an expert on school health programs at Columbia University and one of the authors of the letter, said between children and adults.

Ideally, CDC would continue to refine its models for risk assessment in communities, including incorporating signals from wastewater analysis and other approaches, said Joseph Allen, expert on building quality at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.

“It is clear that there is no clear limit to any of these metrics,” Dr. Allen said. “I hope the CDC avoids that pitfall again.”

Zolan Kanno-Youngs contribution report.

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/25/health/cdc-mask-guidance.html New CDC guidance suggests 70% of Americans can stop wearing masks

Fry Electronics Team

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