CDC Eases COVID-19 Mask Guidelines Based on County Risk Levels

Under the latest recommendations, more than 70% of Americans may stop wearing masks.

CDC-Issues-New-Mask-Guidance-GettyImages-549010413-1286748706
Photo: Getty / Design by Jo Imperio

The nation has turned a corner in its approach to addressing COVID-19 with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announcing on Friday afternoon that most people will no longer need to wear face coverings, so long as COVID-19 hospitalizations remain low.

During a telephone conference with the media, CDC officials said the country has made significant progress addressing the threat from COVID-19, and as a result the agency has updated its recommended safety measures. Under the new guidance, more than 70% of Americans live in communities where wearing masks is no longer recommended.

"We're in a stronger place today as a nation with more tools to protect ourselves and our communities from COVID 19—like vaccinations, boosters, broader access to testing, availability of high-quality masks, accessibility to new treatments, and improved ventilation," Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said during the Friday briefing. "With widespread population immunity, the overall risk of severe disease is now generally lower."

New COVID-19 Community Level System

As part of Friday's announcement, the CDC rolled out a new color-coded framework for indicating the level of COVID-19 severity in each community. The new system categorizes the local disease threat as low risk (green), medium risk (yellow), or high risk (red).

  • Low-risk communities: Masks are not required; people can continue to wear masks based on personal preference or risk tolerance.
  • Medium-risk communities: Masks are not required; people who are immunocompromised or at high risk for severe illness from COVID-19 should speak with their health care provider about wearing masks.
  • High-risk communities: People should wear masks indoors, in public places and schools, regardless of vaccination status.

"The COVID-19 community levels we are releasing today will inform CDC recommendations on prevention measures like masking," Walensky explained.

As part of the CDC's new guidance system, masks won't be required indoors if average new cases fall below 200 per 100,000 residents, there are fewer than 10 COVID-19 admissions per 100,000 people over the past week, and COVID-19 patients are taking up less than 10% of available beds, based on a seven-day average.

The CDC has updated its website to reflect its new color-coded threat level system. Members of the public can visit the website to find out what the threat level is locally and learn more about the CDC's recommendations for protection based on each threat level. The agency said the COVID-19 Community Levels can help communities and individuals make decisions based on the local context and unique needs.

New CDC Focus

As COVID-19 becomes more contained, the CDC said it is turning its attention to metrics beyond just case numbers in communities and will heighten its focus on those who are at high risk for severe illness, as well as on preventing COVID-19 from overwhelming the country's hospitals and health care systems.

"Please remember that there are people who remain at higher risk for COVID-19 and who may need additional protections," added Walensky. "Those who are immunocompromised or have underlying health conditions, those who have disabilities or those who live with people at risk."

The CDC still recommends getting vaccinated for COVID-19 and staying up to date on your vaccinations, as well as a regular COVID-19 testing.

As of February 23, the seven-day average of daily new cases in the United States was 75,208, which was a 37.7% decrease from the previous week, according to the CDC. About 551.4 million vaccine doses have been administered in this country as of the last week in February, and to date about 76.3% of the U.S. population has received at least one dose of the vaccine.

The information in this story is accurate as of press time. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it's possible that some data have changed since publication. While Health is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations for their own communities by using the CDC, WHO, and their local public health department as resources.

To get our top stories delivered to your inbox, sign up for the Healthy Living newsletter.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles