FRIDAY, Feb. 25, 2022 (HealthDay News) — The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Friday that most Americans can now shed their face coverings in indoor public settings, because the agency has changed how it measures the threat of COVID-19 in local communities.

Until now, COVID-19 case counts have been the primary metric used to determine whether mask wearing was recommended in a community. That meant that roughly 95 percent of U.S. counties fell into the “mask up” category. But the new guidelines also weigh hospitalizations and local hospital capacity, which have improved greatly since the omicron variant first surfaced in the United States last December. The highly contagious variant has been less severe than earlier versions of the virus, particularly for people who are fully vaccinated and boosted.

Under the new recommendations, more than 70 percent of Americans now live in areas where masking in public indoor settings is no longer advised, according to the CDC. Americans also now have a special CDC website where they can find out on their own whether mask wearing is still recommended in their counties.

“A community’s COVID-19 level is determined by a combination of three pieces of information — new hospitalizations for COVD-19, current hospital beds occupied by COVID-19 patients or hospital capacity, and new COVID-19 cases,” Greta Massetti, from the CDC COVID-19 Response Incident Management Team, explained during an afternoon media briefing on the new COVID-19 calculations. “These metrics will tell us if the level is low, medium, or high.”

Masking in public indoor settings is only advised in communities where COVID-19 levels are high; in medium-level communities, high-risk people are advised to talk with their doctor about whether to wear a mask in public indoor settings. No masking is recommended in low-level community settings.

“This new framework will provide the best way for us to judge what level of preventive measures may be needed in our communities,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, M.D., said during the media briefing. “If or when new variants emerge or the virus surges, we have more ways to control the virus and protect ourselves and our communities than ever before.”

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