(The Center Square) - The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced new guidance Friday that eases up their recommendations for wearing masks indoors for most Americans.
The CDC held a press briefing Friday explaining the updated guidance. Notably, CDC officials said masks are no longer necessary unless someone lives in an area where hospitals are struggling to keep up, adding that that description means about 70 percent of Americans can go maskless.
"We want to give people a break from things like mask wearing ..." CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said.
The CDC does not mandate any mask wearing officially, but its guidance sets a standard adhered to by governments and institutions around the country. The CDC website allows users to check whether their county is considered "high-risk" enough to require mask wearing because of the strain put on hospitals.
"Levels can be low, medium, or high and are determined by looking at hospital beds being used, hospital admissions, and the total number of new COVID-19 cases in an area," the site says. "Take precautions to protect yourself and others from COVID-19 based on the COVID-19 Community Level in your area."
Walensky had hinted at the changes Thursday night.
"At [CDC] we have been analyzing our [COVID] data and shifting our focus to preventing the most severe outcomes and minimizing healthcare strain," she wrote on Twitter. "Moving forward, our approach will advise enhanced prevention efforts in communities with a high volume of severe illness and will also focus on protecting our healthcare systems from being overwhelmed."
The CDC last year announced that vaccinated individuals could stop wearing masks indoors before quickly reversing course.
Many states and local governments have already lifted their mask mandates or set expiration dates for those mandates. Many school districts, though, have held out, keeping the mandates in place. The CDC's updated guidance will likely pressure many of those low-risk and medium-risk areas to reevaluate their policies.
The guidance also raises new questions, though, about how officials regulating transportation such as airplanes, buses and trains will react and whether mask mandates there will remain in place.
Currently, there is a federal mandate requiring masks on flights through March 18. Whether that mandate will be re-upped given the CDC's new guidance remains to be seen.
The Association for Flight Attendants-CWA, a major union for the workers, reportedly called on the Transportation Security Administration to extend the mandate earlier this week.