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February 25, 2022

New CDC guidelines ease masking recommendations for many healthy Americans

The Philadelphia Department of Public Health stated that it will continue to implement its own response as the pandemic unfolds

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The Center for Disease Control is taking a new approach by loosening nationwide COVID-19 guidelines. But that doesn't mean COVID-19 restrictions in Philly will be going away any time soon.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced an update to its masking guidelines on Friday, putting more of a focus on hospitalizations rather than positive COVID-19 test results.

The recommendations put nearly 70% of the nation within a low or medium threat of community transmission, meaning the agency no longer advises wearing masks, the New York Times reported

However, this doesn't mean restrictions will immediately go away, as it is still ultimately up to local counties and cities to impose restrictions. The guidelines also do not impact masking requirements on public transportation or inside airports, train and bus stations.

Counties are now being asked to consider three different measures when assessing COVID-19 risks: new Covid-related hospital admissions over the previous week, the percentage of hospital beds occupied by Covid patients and the number of new coronavirus cases per 100,000 people over the previous week.

Based on these three factors, counties will be able to calculate whether their COVID-19 risk is low, medium or high. Only people in high risk areas are advised to wear masks, but the unvaccinated should wear masks regardless, the agency said.

That goes for schools, too. The CDC is only recommending masking in educational settings if a community is at "high" risk. That includes 37% of U.S. counties where 28% of Americans live, the Associated Press reported.

“We want to give people a break from things like masking when our levels are low, and then have the ability to reach for them again should things get worse in the future,” said CDC Director Rochelle Walensky.

While the New York City and Washington D.C. metro areas are both considered low risk by the CDC at the moment, meaning people are simply asked to get tested if symptomatic and to stay up to date on the virus, Philadelphia and all its suburbs in Pennsylvania and New Jersey are currently considered medium risk.

This means that those at high risk for severe illness are asked to consult their doctors about whether they should or shouldn't be masking.

There are currently 15 counties in Pennsylvania that are still considered high risk, mostly in the central and northeastern parts of the state. There, masking while indoors in public is recommended and additional precautions may be considered for people at high risk.

The new guidelines don't necessarily mean COVID-19 restrictions will be removed by The Philadelphia Department of Public Health any time soon. 

"Though we are encouraged by current COVID-19 trends, the health department has developed its response levels based on local conditions and months of data specific to Philadelphia," a spokesperson for the agency said.

The agency has four response levels based on both hospitalization rates, case rates and the percentage of people testing positive. The city is currently at level 2, meaning that there's no vaccine requirement at restaurants but masks are still required indoors.

"At this time we plan to continue the implementation of these current response levels as the pandemic unfolds," the spokesperson said

Level 1, which would be all clear, would see the city do away with mask requirements in most places except for schools, public transportation, healthcare institutions and other congregate settings.

Many experts are fans of the CDC's new approach. That includes Daniel McQuillen, the president of the Infectious Diseases Society of America.

"The United States has reached an important milestone in ongoing efforts to combat COVID-19," he told the Hill. "As COVID-19 case rates and hospitalization rates in the United States continue to decline, IDSA supports the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s update to its COVID-19 community guidance."

Former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb also tweeted in support of the guidance calling it "well developed" and reflective of "rising immunity" and "declining overall risk."

None of this means the era of masks is over nationwide or in Pennsylvania.

Keara Klinepeter, the Keystone State's acting health secretary, urged “patience and grace” for those who continue to mask in public for health or personal reasons, the AP reported. 

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