More Than 90 Percent of Americans Can Go Without Masks: CDC

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More than nine in 10 Americans live in a county where COVID-19 risk is so low that they don’t need to wear a mask, according to a U.S. health agency.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on March 3 updated its community COVID-19 map, which estimates risk by county based on COVID-19 infections, hospital admissions, and hospitalized patients.

Over 90 percent of the U.S. population lives in a county where the risk is designated low or medium, meaning masks should not be required, according to the CDC.

Some states have no counties labeled high risk, including Nevada, Maine, and South Carolina. A handful have large areas designated high risk, including Nebraska, Kentucky, and West Virginia.

The map will be updated every Thursday moving forward, a CDC spokesperson said.

Before Feb. 25, the CDC recommended mask-wearing for over 95 percent of the country. On that day, the agency drastically changed how it measures risk.

Before, a county could be designated high risk if it had as few as 50 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people in the past 7 days, or the percentage of positive tests was at least 8 percent in the same timeframe.

Under the new risk assessment, counties are considered high risk if they have a certain number of new hospital admissions with or for COVID-19 in the past 7 days per 100,000 population, in addition to a certain percent of inpatient beds occupied by COVID-19 patients, regardless of whether the patients were admitted for COVID-19 or for other reasons.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC’s director, told reporters on a call that the change was due to more people getting vaccinated and more people getting COVID-19 and recovering.

“This new framework moves beyond just looking at cases and test positivity to evaluate factors that reflect the severity of disease, including hospitalizations and hospital capacity, and helps to determine whether the level of COVID 19 and severe disease are low, medium, or high in a community,” she said.

The CDC primarily issues guidance, but its recommendations have been widely adopted as requirements across the country during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The CDC has also issued its own requirements, and still requires masks in public transportation settings such as airports.

Some were critical of the change, including Dr. Dorry Segev, a professor of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University.

“If you’re thinking the new CDC mask guidance is premature, ignores prevention, ignores long COVID, ignores the tens of millions with compromised immune systems or not eligible for vaccines, and ignores the risk of new variants … Well, sadly, you’re right,” Segev wrote on Twitter.

Others said the rollback didn’t go far enough.

“I see the CDC now recommends you wear a mask that does NOT work (cloth) at a threshold that is NOT based on any data what-so-ever,” Dr. Vinay Prasad, an epidemiology professor at the University of California San Francisco.

Zachary Stieber

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Zachary Stieber covers U.S. and world news. He is based in Maryland.



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