CDC director: Cases too high to end indoor masking requirements

The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said the agency is still not ready to make recommendations on relaxing mask requirements, even as more governors announce their intentions to do so.

“We are working on that guidance,” Rochelle Walensky told reporters during a White House briefing, but “our hospitalizations are still high, our death rates are still high. So as we work towards that and as we are encouraged by the current trends, we are not there yet.”

Her comments come as a growing number of states, like California, Delaware and New York announced this week their intentions to drop indoor mask mandates in the coming days. Some others, like Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Jersey, are eliminating mask mandates in schools.

Walensky noted that decisions on masks should be made at the local level based on local metrics, like hospital capacity, transmission rate and vaccinations. While numbers are trending downward, she said there’s still too much viral transmission.

“At this time, we continue to recommend masking in areas of high-end substantial transmission. That’s much of the country right now in public indoor settings,” Walensky said.

According to the CDC, 99 percent of U.S. counties still have high levels of coronavirus transmission.

White House coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients was similarly silent on whether the White House was planning to shift away from its current focus on responding to a COVID-19 emergency, including any off-ramp metrics for governors to use.

“While cases and hospitalizations … are trending downward, we do remain focused on fighting the omicron surge. So that’s priority number one,” Zients told reporters.

Zients added that different parts of the country will have different responses because of local conditions.

“We know that in different areas of the country, cases have fallen more significantly and this will lead to different approaches and different timing. And we will continue to coordinate closely with state and local leaders,” Zients said.

Tags CDC Coronavirus COVID-19 Jeff Zients Masks Rochelle Walensky

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