CDC Wants to ‘Give People a Break’ From Wearing Masks, Director Walensky Says

by Josh Lanier

The Center for Disease Control recommends that people wear masks indoors. But that may change soon, as the agency may “give people a break” if the number of hospitalizations keeps falling.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told reporters on Wednesday that officials would update how it measures the pandemic to include more factors. That will necessitate a change to the agency’s mask policy as early as next week, reports have said.

“We are assessing the most important factors based on where we are in the pandemic, and we’ll soon put guidance in place that is relevant and encourages prevention measures when they are most needed to protect public health and our hospitals,” she said at the weekly White House COVID press conference. “We want to give people a break from things like mask-wearing when these metrics are better and then have the ability to reach for them again should things worsen,” she said. 

Several states and cities have already loosened mask mandates, including Democrat strongholds such as New York, California, and Washington, D.C. New Jersey lifted its requirements that kids wear masks in schools.

COVID-19 infection and hospitalization numbers peaked last month. Transmission rates remain high, but they are 83 percent below the peak of 800,000 new cases a day on Jan. 15. The number of people hospitalized Covid patients has nearly halved in that time as well, CNBC reported.

Jeff Zients, White House Covid response coordinator, said the country is leaving the worst throes of the pandemic behind.

“We’re moving toward a time when Covid isn’t a crisis, but it’s something we can protect against and treat,” Zients said during Wednesday’s briefing. “The president and our Covid team are actively planning for the future.”

Businesses, Festivals Roll Back Mask Mandate for Employees

Several businesses have begun to relax mask mandates for their employees. Last week, retail giants Walmart and Amazon said fully vaccinated employees could remove their masks at work, and several other businesses have followed suit. Tyson, the country’s largest meat producer, also changed its policy on Tuesday.

Pharmacy workers at Walmart, regardless of vaccination status, would need to keep their masks on while at work.

“Though vaccinated associates are no longer required to wear a mask in our facilities, we support and respect an individual’s choice to continue wearing one,” Walmart wrote in a memo to workers.

Major music festivals also said they wouldn’t require masks. Coachella and Stagecoach announced this week that they wouldn’t make concert goes wear them. Though, that could change if infection rates worsen. California, where these festivals take place, recommends — but no longer requires — outdoor events to ask for proof of vaccination.

Leaders in New Orleans, however, said they will enforce an indoor mask mandate during Mardi Gras events. Tourists are asked to bring proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test from the previous 72 hours to attend events.