Now most of Americans can take off their masks indoors

Now most of Americans can take off their masks indoors under new CDC guidelines on the risk of COVID-19

The CDC has announced changes to guidelines that allow most Americans to reveal a mask indoors, which health experts said could be the first step in turning the United States into an "endemic phase" of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a press briefing Friday afternoon, the agency said it would use various metrics to recommend face coverings.

The guidelines will consider hospitalizations, current beds occupied by COVID-19 patients, and hospital capacity. According to CDC data, the new metrics will place more than half of US counties -- where more than 70% of Americans live -- in areas of low or medium risk.

"We are in a stronger place today as a country that has more tools today to protect ourselves and our country from COVID-19 such as vaccination, boosters, broader access to testing, availability of high-quality masks, access to new treatments, and better ventilation," said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walinsky. During a briefing on Friday.

Officials say the new guidelines won't immediately affect federal mask mandates. Americans will still be required to wear face coverings on public transportation until a decision is made closer to March 18, when the order expires.

However, the CDC says schools are listed in public places where masking and testing become not necessary if the risk of Coronavirus is low based on the new metrics.

The CDC advises people at high risk of developing severe illness from COVID-19 — or those who live with people at risk — to take extra precautions, regardless of their societal status.

No change for travel: Yes, masks are still required on planes and at airports

Health experts say Americans are fully vaccinated. The spread of the omicron variant has eventually reduced hospital admissions and deaths.

Johns Hopkins University data showed that the frequency of new cases fell 36% from the previous week, and the frequency of reported deaths decreased by 22%. According to Health and Human Services data, hospitals have 24% fewer COVID-19 patients than the previous week.

"We had an excellent understanding of the relationship between cases, hospitalization, intensive care beds, and loss of life," said Dr. Chris Perrier, professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. "With omicron, that calculation changed because the virus is more transmissible but significantly milder."

Case numbers and positive tests alone no longer capture an accurate picture of the risk of COVID-19 in the United States, said Judy Guest, professor and deputy chair of the department of epidemiology, where many Americans rely on rapid testing at home and results are not reported. At the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University.

"It's hard to explain positivity rates with so many antigen tests done," she said. "It's not the whole picture anymore."

The new policy comes after the Biden administration focuses on preventing severe illness and death from COVID-19, rather than all infections, as part of a strategy adjustment for a new "stage" in the response as the virus becomes endemic.

Nearly all US states that have set indoor mask-wearing mandates for the omicron height in winter are letting them fade as cases drop rapidly across the country. Some have eliminated conditions, while others have kept mask-wearing requirements in schools and medical facilities.

Some health experts worry that the new measures could lead to a spike in cases and hospitalizations. Others fear that masking guidelines may be difficult to reinforce if another type of anxiety arrives and appears to evade omicron-induced immunity.

Health experts say Americans should be prepared to go back to masks if the science changes. For now, the data shows that the US is on the right track.

'Are we still vigilant? There's no doubt about that,' said Bayer.

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