WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden’s administration will relax federal guidelines on wearing masks to protect against COVID-19 transmission on Friday, according to two people familiar with the matter, meaning most Americans will no longer be advised to wear face coverings in closed public spaces.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will announce on Friday a change to the metrics it uses to determine whether to recommend the use of masks, and instead consider the count of COVID cases -19 will take a more holistic view of the risk that the coronavirus poses to a community. Under current guidelines, masks are recommended for people who live in communities with significant or high transmission, about 95% of counties in the United States, according to the latest data.
The new metrics will still consider the number of cases, but will also take into account hospitalizations and the capacity of local hospitals, which have improved markedly during the appearance of the omicron variant. This mutation is highly transmissible, but the indications suggest that it is less serious than the previous variants, especially in the case of people with a complete vaccination and booster schedule. Under the new guidelines, the vast majority of Americans will no longer live in areas that recommend wearing masks in public, based on current data.
The new policy comes at a time when the Biden administration is focusing on preventing serious illness and death from COVID-19, rather than all cases of infection, as part of a strategy adjustment for a new “phase” of the response as the virus becomes endemic.
The two people familiar with the new measure spoke on condition of anonymity to comment on the CDC’s actions before a formal announcement is made.
The change comes as nearly every U.S. state that had put in place indoor mask orders for the winter surge of omicrons has been lifting them as cases decline precipitously across the country. Some have scrapped the mandates altogether, while others have kept mask requirements in schools and medical facilities.
It is currently unknown how the new CDC recommendation would affect federal mandates requiring the use of masks on public transportation.
Associated Press writer Mike Stobbe contributed to this report.