The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention outlined on Friday a new set of measures for communities where COVID-19 is easing its grip, with less of a focus on positive test results and more on what’s happening at hospitals.
The new system greatly changes the look of the CDC's risk map and puts more than 70% of the U.S. population in counties where the coronavirus is posing a low or medium threat to hospitals. People in those areas can stop wearing masks, the agency said.
The agency is still advising that people, including schoolchildren, wear masks where the risk of COVID-19 is high. That's the situation in about 37% of U.S. counties, where about 28% of Americans reside.
The new recommendations do not change the requirement to wear masks on public transportation and indoors in airports, train stations and bus stations.
The CDC guidelines for other indoor spaces aren’t binding, meaning cities and institutions even in areas of low risk may set their own rules. And the agency says people with COVID-19 symptoms or who test positive shouldn’t stop wearing masks.
But with protection from immunity rising — both from vaccination and infection — the overall risk of severe disease is now generally lower, the CDC said.
The CDC is also offering a color-coded map — with counties designated as orange, yellow or green — to help guide local officials and residents.
In green counties, local officials can drop any indoor masking rules. Yellow means people at high risk for severe disease should be cautious. Orange designates places where the CDC suggests masking should be universal.
How a county comes to be designated green, yellow or orange will depend on its rate of new COVID-19 hospital admissions, the share of staffed hospital beds occupied by COVID-19 patients and the rate of new cases in the community.