CDC mask guidelines under review as COVID numbers fall, cold season begins

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Health officials will update mask guidance as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue a downward trend, but the upcoming “respiratory virus” season may give them pause. 

The White House COVID-19 Response Team and public health officials spoke with reporters during a press conference Friday. The team touted the incredible progress made thanks to the push on vaccinations and introduction of booster shots, with 10 million booster shots administered nationwide as of last week. 

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky answers questions from reporters during a Friday press conference. 
(Courtesy White House YouTube channel)

However, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky noted that officials will need to take the upcoming threat of respiratory viruses into consideration before updating mask guidance. 

“We still have 75,000 cases in this country, and I am very encouraged to watch these trends coming down, but as you know we still have over 90% of our counties that are in high-risk or high-transmission,” Walensky told reporters. “As we watch the community levels come down we will update our recommendations.” 

“It’s important to note that as we look at the current situation we are also heading into respiratory virus season,” Walensky added. “During that season we know respiratory viruses tend to thrive, so we’re taking that all into consideration.”

“Respiratory virus season” typically begins in the fall – in October or November – and ends in spring – in February or March – meaning the CDC may not ease back on mask guidance until the spring season.

Current mask guidance from the CDC recommends that individuals who are not fully vaccinated and aged 2 or older should wear masks in indoor public spaces. 

The CDC recommends that individuals who are fully vaccinated but in an area of substantial or high transmission should wear a mask as well, but some private businesses do not require them, especially in areas such as New York City where proof of vaccination is required for entry. 

Walensky touted the success of the vaccine booster program, which she credits for a significant drop in COVID-19 cases across the country: In mid-September, the seven-day average for new cases topped around 175,000, but six weeks on the average is down to around 75,000, according to numbers from Our World in Data. 

Some experts have cautioned that a fifth wave of COVID-19 infections may occur in the coming winter season. 

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