CDC Guidance: 98% of U.S. Population Can Drop Masks Indoors

While masks can come off for many, federal agencies extended the mask mandate for planes and public transportation for another month.

Nearly every American lives in an area where they can drop their masks indoors, according to updated data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Under CDC’s new framework, more than 98% of Americans live in counties where they do not need to wear a mask indoors in public.

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CDC’s new guidance relies on hospital capacities, new cases, and hospitalizations to determine what it calls “COVID-19 community levels.” Only in a “high” area do people need to wear masks indoors under the guidelines. Those at high risk for severe COVID-19 living in a “medium” community-level should talk to their doctor before nixing their face covering, the CDC recommends.

It’s a big change from the previous way CDC determined mask recommendations, which relied on community transmission. Under that previous guidance, masks would be recommended indoors in 64% of U.S. counties. Two years after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, the U.S. is seeing declining cases, leading many to lift mitigation measures. But at least one federal mitigation measure is sticking around for a little longer. Federal agencies announced on Thursday that the mask mandate for planes, public transportation, and transportation hubs will be extended through April 18. It was set to expire on March 18. CDC said in a statement that during that time it will “work with government agencies to help inform a revised policy framework for when, and under what circumstances, masks should be required in the public transportation corridor.”

The Transportation Security Administration said this week that it expects travel to rebound, reaching 90% of the average daily passengers it screened pre-pandemic during the month of March.

TSA Administrator David Pekoske said “we are seeing a light at the end of the tunnel as demonstrated by the rapid recovery of the travel industry,” adding that “we are prepared and ready for a busy spring.”

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