The CDC is issuing new directives that eliminate most mask recommendations in indoor settings, the latest sign that the COVID-19 pandemic could have turned the corner to endemic. The new advisory will focus more on hospitalizations and hospital capacity rather than case counts to determine where masks should be worn indoors. The omicron variant has been highly contagious but less effective at causing severe illness in those infected. With the omicron wave subsiding in the U.S., hospitals in many counties across the country are below capacity.
This has prompted leaders to look toward a new phase of COVID, where the disease is endemic and “we work to live with this virus,” as California Gov. Gavin Newsom put it.
“We must consider hospital capacity as an additional important barometer. Our hospitals need to be able to take care of people with heart attacks and strokes. Our emergency departments can’t be so overwhelmed that patients with emergent issues have to wait in line,” CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a White House briefing last week.
“At @CDCgov, we have been analyzing our #COVID19 data and shifting our focus to preventing the most severe outcomes and minimizing healthcare strain,” Walensky tweeted Thursday night in advance of the announcement.
Most mask mandates are in the hands of state and local officials, but federal mandates remain in place for air transportation and in federal buildings. The CDC’s guidance could change masking rules in those cases. The seven-day average for reported COVID cases nationwide is just over 75,000, a 37.7% drop from the previous week.