The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to loosen its guidelines for when and where Americans should wear masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, allowing most people to go without them in public indoor spaces, according to two federal officials familiar with the matter.
The policy is expected to be announced on Friday afternoon, according to an administration official. The Associated Press first reported the change on Thursday.
Under the current guidelines, the agency recommends that anyone living in areas with substantial or high transmission of the coronavirus, as defined by case counts, should wear masks in public indoor spaces like gyms, movie theaters and full-capacity houses of worship. That means that people living in 95 percent of the counties in the United States should continue wearing masks indoors. The country is recording an average of about 76,000 new cases per day, a roughly 66 percent drop from two weeks ago.
The forthcoming recommendations are expected to hinge on newly defined metrics to determine whether people in a particular geographical area are at high risk from the virus. They will place less emphasis on case counts and give more weight to hospitalizations as a key measure of risk, according to a federal official who is familiar with the plans but was not authorized to speak about them.
The guidelines are likely to factor in the capacity of hospitals in a local area as an important indicator of the level of risk. With hospitalizations declining across the nation, that may allow the great majority of Americans to drop their masks. About 60,000 people are hospitalized with Covid nationwide, but those numbers have dropped by about 44 percent in the past two weeks.
Most states have already eased rules for mask-wearing, and some, like New Jersey, have announced plans to lift mandates even in schools. Others are poised to end indoor mask mandates in the coming weeks. But an official recommendation from the C.D.C. may hold some sway in districts that have been more cautious.
Many businesses have shifted to requiring only proof of vaccinations. But masks are currently required on public transportation, including airplanes. The current mandate is scheduled to remain in force through March 18, and may be extended.
Last year, the C.D.C. was sharply criticized for lifting mask restrictions too soon, only to have the Delta variant of the virus surge throughout the nation. This time, however, many public health experts support the easing of mask guidelines.
Recent polls have indicated that the public’s patience with Covid restrictions is waning. Nearly half of Americans surveyed thought the nation should “learn to live with” the pandemic “and get back to normal,” according to a recent Yahoo News/YouGov survey. About 70 percent of Americans believe “it’s time we accept Covid is here to stay and we just need to get on with our lives,” according to a recent poll by Monmouth University.