CDC debuts new mask guidelines

The CDC eased indoor mask guidance Feb. 25, now relying on how COVID-19 is affecting a community's healthcare system — rather than transmission rates alone —  as a guide for mask recommendations. 

Under the new framework, an area falls in one of three COVID-19 community levels, with recommended prevention measures varying by level. 

"A community's COVID-19 level is determined by a combination of three pieces of information:

COVID-19, current hospital beds occupied by COVID-19 patients or hospital capacity, and new COVID-19 cases," Greta Massetti, PhD, of the CDC's COVID-19 response incident management team.

Here are the COVID-19 community levels, as outlined by the CDC: Here are the COVID-19 community levels, as outlined by the CDC: 

Low: This indicates the virus is having a limited effect on the healthcare system, with low levels of severe disease.

Medium: This means there are more people with severe disease, and communities are beginning to see an increase in how much COVID-19 is affecting their healthcare system.

High: At this level, there is a high level of severe disease and high potential for a community's healthcare system to become strained.

About half of U.S. counties, representing nearly 70 percent of the U.S. population, were in the low or medium COVID-19 community category as of Feb. 25, CDC officials said.

The agency also updated guidance for schools, recommending universal mask-wearing only in schools in communities at the high level.

We want to give people a break from things like mask-wearing when our levels are low and then have the ability to reach for them again should things get worse in the future.

We should all keep in mind that some people may choose to wear a mask based on personal preference," Dr. Walensky said.

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