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The Battalion

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The Battalion

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CDC to no longer require masks for 70% of population

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Photo by Courtesy of CDC

The CDC has updated its COVID-19 masking guidelines, which will now be dependent on the community level of transmission. 

Masking recommendations for Brazos County could change soon.
In a Feb. 25 press conference, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, announced it would no longer require masks for 70% of the population. The CDC announced it would now determine masking procedures through a new community level, measuring transmission through three levels: low, medium and high. 
“We’re in a stronger place today as a nation with more tools to protect ourselves and our communities from COVID-19 like vaccination boosters, broader access to testing, availability of high quality masks, accessibility to new treatments and improved ventilation,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in the press conference. “Over 200 million people have received a primary vaccine series and nearly 100 million have been boosted and millions more have had prior disease. With widespread population immunity, the overall risk of severe disease is now generally lower.”
Though the circulation of COVID-19 is not over, Walensky said with a lower risk of spread, the CDC will now provide recommendations for masking based on the amount of resources, including COVID-19 hospital admissions and inpatient beds being used, within local communities.
“Now as the virus continues to circulate in our communities, we must focus our metrics beyond just cases in the community, and direct our efforts toward protecting people at high risk for severe illness, and preventing COVID-19 from overwhelming our hospitals and our healthcare system,” Walensky said. “Recommendations for layer prevention measures will depend on the COVID-19 level in the community. This updated approach focuses on directing our prevention efforts toward protecting people at high risk for severe ailments and preventing hospitals and healthcare systems from being overwhelmed.”
The low level, measured with green on the chart, has less than 10% per 100,000 hospital COVID-19 cases and less than 10% of staffed inpatient beds occupied by COVID-19 cases on a seven-day average. 
“At the low level, there is limited impact on the healthcare system and low amounts of severe disease in the community. People should stay up to date with their vaccines and get tested if they’re sick,” CDC COVID-19 Incident Management Team Dr. Greta Massetti said. 
Indicated by yellow on the chart, the medium level has 10% to 19.9% of new COVID-19 admissions per day for counties with fewer than 200,000 people and less than 10% for communities with 200,000 or more. The county must also have between 10% and 14.9% of COVID-19 inpatient beds for counties less than 200,000 and less than 10% for communities who have more than 200,000 people. 
“At the medium level, more people are experiencing severe disease in the community, and they’re starting to see more impact on the health care system,” Massetti said. “At this level, CDC recommends that people who are high risk, such as someone who is immunocompromised should talk to their health care provider about taking additional precautions and may choose to wear a mask.”
To receive an indication of the highest level, shown as red, a county would have 20% or more COVID-19 admissions per 100,000 for communities with fewer than 200,000, while those with more than 200,000 have a percentage of 10% or more. Additionally, the county will have more than 15% of staffed inpatient COVID-19 beds per 200,000 or more than 10% in communities greater than 200,000.
“As communities enter into the high level there is a high amount of people experiencing severe disease and high potential for health care system strain. At the high level, CDC recommends that everyone wear masks indoors in public, including in schools,” Massetti said. “Communities can use these metrics along with their own local metrics, such as wastewater surveillance, emergency department visits and workforce capacity to update and further inform their local policies and ensure equity and prevention efforts. And these categories help individuals assess what impacts COVID-19 is having on their community so that they can decide if they need to take extra precautions including masking based on their location, their health status and their risk tolerance.”
Currently, Brazos County has a high COVID-19 community level, falling into the category of those who should still be masking indoors and in schools, as by CDC recommendation. Brazos County has a total of 54,326 active COVID-19 cases with a hospital rate of 5.66% as of Wednesday, Feb. 23, according to the Brazos Valley Health District website.
Massetti said individuals who choose to continue masking with high quality masks will be protected even if those around them are not masked. 
“We should all keep in mind that some people may choose to wear a mask at any time based on personal preference,” Massetti said. “There are some situations where people should always wear a mask, for example, if they have symptoms if they tested positive for COVID-19, or if they have been exposed to someone with COVID-19.”
Though schools were recommended to still have masking procedures regardless of status, Massetti said the CDC would be updating the school masking policy to follow the community level standards. 
“Today, we’re also updating our recommendations for schools since July 2021. CDC recommended universal masking in schools no matter what level of impact COVID-19 was having on the community,” Massetti said. “With this update, CDC will now only recommend universal school masking and communities at the high level.”
Though the CDC has changed recommendations, Walensky said they are not sure of what the future holds. Individuals should continue to monitor conditions and updates from the CDC. 
“We want to give people a break from things like mask wearing when our levels are low, and then have the ability to reach for them again should things get worse in the future. We, at CDC, will continue to follow the science and epidemiology to make public health recommendations and guidance based on the data,” Walensky said. “These new metrics have demonstrated predictive capacity for weeks into the future. We will continue to evaluate how well they perform in our community. This new framework will provide the best way for us to judge what level of preventive measures may be needed in our communities. If or when new variants emerge, or the virus surges, we have more ways to control the virus and protect ourselves and our communities than ever before.”
Individuals can check community levels on the CDC website, which will be constantly updated. 

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