The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are letting most Americans take their masks off for a little bit, as a treat.
On Friday, the public health agency released a new COVID Community Levels tool that measures the severity of the pandemic by COVID's burden on the hospital system, rather than the number of cases. That change in measurement means the CDC is now classifying about 70 percent of counties in the country at low or medium threat of COVID. In those areas, the agency is no longer recommending people wear a mask indoors.
These new guidelines don't change the requirements that people wear masks on well-ventilated airplanes or near-empty buses and subways. The agency is still also recommending that people, including school children in K-12 schools, wear masks indoors in the 30 percent of counties where the risk of COVID-19 is ranked as high.
The in-school masking recommendation is being lifted for school children in low- and medium-risk counties, however. That's a change from CDC Director Rochelle Walensky's comments from just last week. The director had said in a closed congressional hearing that she had no plans to change the agency's recommendation that all school children continue to wear masks, according to reporting from Reason's Robby Soave.
Walensky was careful to stress on a call with reporters today that people in low and medium-risk jurisdictions were still free to wear a mask if they wanted to.
"Anybody is certainly welcome to wear a mask at any time if they feel safer wearing a mask," she said, as reported by the Associated Press.
That will certainly be comforting to those who weren't sure if they could make a decision without the CDC's explicit approval. For most people, however, the agency's new guidance will do little more than ratify what they've already been doing.
Some 65 percent of the country has already had two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, enough to be "vaxxed and relaxed." And those who haven't been vaccinated were not likely to be the most fanatic followers of the CDC's masking advice.
The practical upshot of the new guidelines is that they'll give local government officials and school superintendents the permission and courage they need to stick to their planned repeal of mandatory masking or a much-needed nudge to get rid of those mandates that are still in place.