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No Masks; CDC Dramatically Eases COVID-19 Restrictions Friday

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FLORIDA — In a sharp reversal of previous guidelines. the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday announced it is dramatically easing its COVID-19 recommendation for wearing masks indoors.

This means 72 percent of the population will live in communities where indoor face coverings are no longer recommended.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky during a news briefing that the new masking guidelines are a shift from a focus on the rate of COVID-19 transmission to local hospitalizations, hospital capacity and infection rates.

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Under the previous guidelines, 95 percent of U.S. counties were considered to be experiencing high transmission, leaving just 5 percent of U.S. counties under the agency’s recommendation for abandoning indoor mask requirements.

The moves come as the wave of coronavirus infections caused by the easily spread omicron variant subsides substantially in the United States. In response, states and counties have announced plans to lift indoor mask mandates in the coming days.

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Walensky said studies have shown that, for vaccinated people, infections from the omicron variant were less severe and less likely to cause hospitalization and death than previous versions of the coronavirus.

She said travelers will still need to wear masks on airplanes, trains and buses and at airports and train stations for now.

Those requirements expire on March 18, and the CDC will revisit them in the coming weeks, she said.

The CDC said universal school masking would now be advised only in communities with a “high” level of COVID-19. The earlier recommendation advised masking in schools no matter the level of COVID transmission.

In the past, Walensky said the agency was focused on severe disease and the risk of hospitals filling up.

“We need to be flexible and to be able to say we need to relax our layers of preventive measures when things are looking up,” Walensky said. “And then we need to be able to dial them up again, should we have a new variant, during the surge.”

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