The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reportedly easing its mask-wearing requirements on Friday as Covid cases drop nationwide.
The Associated Press said it plans to release changes to the metrics used to determine the need for mask recommendations as they capture a more “holistic view” of the pandemic’s impact on the community.
The federal agency currently recommends masks be worn in 95% of counties, but the new system will evaluate whether hospitals are overwhelmed and cases are on the rise when making mask-related decisions.
The Biden administration has steadfastly refused to change its pandemic-related mandates, and as recently as last week said it was not ready to give up its mask mandates.
It’s unclear if wearing a face covering will be mandatory for schoolchildren, although CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky has hinted that this is unlikely.
CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky (pictured) said last week that the health authority’s leadership “has not changed and continues to support universal mask-wearing in schools.”
“At this point, our CDC recommendations have not changed. We continue to support universal mask-wearing in schools,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a February 15 WYPR radio interview.
“We owe it to our children to make sure they can stay safely in school. Right now, that includes disguise. We have seen outbreaks that have occurred in communities where students did not wear masks in schools and were forced to close.”
Covid cases are declining across the country as the Omicron variant starts to largely fizzle out.
The country averages 87,060 new infections each day, the lowest since the Omicron variant was first launched on Dec. 1. It’s also a 36 percent drop over the past seven days, and for the second day in a row, the average daily case rate fell below 100,000.
Cases have dropped 89 percent since Omicron’s peak surge on January 15 of about 800,000 cases a day. Over the past 29 days, the average daily infection rate in the country has been declining daily.
The Biden administration has been under pressure to waive the mask mandate as other countries, including parts of Europe, have declared the end of the pandemic.
In the US, officials in Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey and Oregon have announced plans to lift the mandatory wearing of masks in schools and other public places as they seek to return to “normal life”.
The governors of California, Illinois and New York have lifted indoor mask requirements but expanded the requirements for schools.
The Biden administration has been criticized for maintaining its mask mandate at a time when other countries and a number of U.S. states have removed the requirement. Pictured, a woman adjusts her mask after crossing the border between Spain and Gibraltar on April 6, 2021.
Masks among schoolchildren have been a particularly sore spot for Americans, who launched “let them breathe” campaigns to protest and went on strike in schools.
In New York, state Republican lawmakers are exploring legislative options to circumvent Gov. Kathy Hochul’s mask rule for K-12 schools.
Meanwhile, Democrats in California have been accused of double standards after weekend photos of maskless celebrities entertaining at the Super Bowl in Los Angeles saw state health officials announce that school wearing rules would be in place until at least the end of the month.
During a press briefing last Wednesday, Walensky suggested that the White House is considering a new phase, which includes moving away from the current stage while being ready for the threat of a new option.
“We want to give people a break from things like wearing masks when those rates improve, and then be able to turn to them again if things get worse,” Walensky explained.
“If and when we update our guidance, we will communicate it clearly. And it will be based on data and science.”
COVID testing chief Dr. Tom Inglesby emphasized the CDC’s stance during an interview with CNN last week, recommending that children use “any” face covering material available, despite research showing some cloth masks may not be effective in fighting the virus.
“Cloth masks are better than no masks. Surgical masks are better than cloth ones. Therefore, any mask available that is well suited for children should be used,” Inglesby told CNN.
The Omicron strain was first discovered by South African officials in late November and quickly took the world by storm. This caused a spike in COVID cases across much of the Western world, with the number of infections in the US skyrocketing to a record 800,000 per day in mid-January.
Experts hope its high infection rate, combined with the relatively mild nature of this option, means the end of the pandemic will be soon.
More than 215 million people have been fully vaccinated against the virus, which has killed more than 941,000 Americans since the pandemic began.