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The CDC Just Changed These Major COVID Rules

The new recommendations affect about 70% of the country.
FACT CHECKED BY Alek Korab

On Friday afternoon, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed its guidance on when Americans should wear face masks in public. The relaxed recommendations immediately affected about 70% of the country. "We're in a stronger place today as a nation with more tools to protect ourselves in our communities from COVID 19, like vaccination, boosters, broader access to testing, availability of high quality masks, accessibility to new treatments, and improved ventilation. Over 200 million people have received a primary vaccine series and nearly 100 million have been boosted and millions more have had prior disease. With widespread population immunity, the overall risk of severe disease is now generally lower. Now, as the virus continues to circulate in our communities, we must focus our metrics beyond just cases in the community and direct our efforts toward protecting people at high risk for severe illness and preventing COVID 19 from overwhelming our hospitals and our healthcare systems. 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," said CDC Chief Rochelle Walensky. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.

1

The New Guidelines

Woman removing face mask from her face outdoors.
iStock

The CDC's new guidelines group the country into high, medium and low levels of COVID-19. The criteria for those designations don't just include the total number of cases in an area—they also consider COVID hospitalization rates and the number of hospital beds available.

In areas where the community COVID level is high, people are advised to wear a mask indoors in public. In areas where the community level is medium, the agency recommends that people consult their healthcare provider about whether they should mask in public. In areas where the community level is low, wearing a mask in public is no longer considered essential.

You can check your community's COVID-19 level on the CDC's website or by calling  800-232-4636.

"People may choose to mask at any time," notes the CDC, adding that people in all areas should stay up to date on their COVID vaccines and get tested if they have symptoms. "People with symptoms, a positive test, or exposure to someone with COVID-19 should wear a mask."

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2

What Doesn't Change

Woman in mask and red coat in the subway.
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Americans are still required to wear face masks on public transportation, including buses, trains and planes. That order is set to expire on March 1. Specific guidelines for masking may be updated before then.

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3

Why The Change Was Made

Female and male doctors wearing masks and uniforms are visiting to check the symptoms of middle-aged female patients lying in bed.
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"The new guidelines, which took effect Friday, reflect the [Biden] administration's view that the United States has entered a different, potentially less dangerous phase of the pandemic," the Washington Post reported. "CDC officials said the shift reflects the reality that after more than two years of living with the virus, most communities have greater protection against severe disease because of widespread immunity gained from both vaccinations and infections, as well as the increased availability of treatments, testing and higher-quality masks."

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4

"Ready for Whatever Comes Next"

Rochelle Walensky
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"None of us knows what the future may hold for us and for this virus," said CDC director Rochelle Walensky. "We need to be prepared and ready for whatever comes next. We want to give people a break from things like mask-wearing, when levels are low, and then have the ability to reach for them again, should things get worse in the future."

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5

How to Stay Safe Out There

Doctor's gloved hands using cotton before vaccine.
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Follow the fundamentals and help end this pandemic, no matter where you live—get vaccinated ASAP; if you live in an area with low vaccination rates, wear an N95 face mask, don't travel, social distance, avoid large crowds, don't go indoors with people you're not sheltering with (especially in bars), practice good hand hygiene, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor whose health and lifestyle content has also been published on Beachbody and Openfit. A contributing writer for Eat This, Not That!, he has also been published in New York, Architectural Digest, Interview, and many others. Read more
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