The CDC gave a briefing on Wednesday to update the nation on where the country stands in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. When asked about guidance on masking, the CDC stated that they are not changing their guidance, though they deferred to local leaders.
In response to questions about when the federal government will lift mask mandates, and what the CDC recommendations are for masking in schools, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky stated that while cases and hospitalizations are falling, the latest guidance still encourages the wearing of masks for adults and school children.
"We continue to recommend masking in areas of high and substantial transmission, which is much of the country right now, and indoor settings." Walensky did not provide a benchmark as to when those recommendations would change.
Walensky said "We certainly understand the need and desire to be flexible and want to ensure the public health guidance that we're providing meets the moment that we're in... Cases of hospitalizations are falling, this is of course encouraging. And that leads us of course to have a look at all of our guidance based on the latest data and the science and what we know about the virus."
The CDC is "looking at the hospitals as a barometer of how they're doing locally. So those decisions can be made on a local level and of course we at CDC will keep the public informed about our guidance and we will clearly communicate those recommendations to the public if and when they are updated," Walensky said.
When asked what a benchmark would be for updates to those recommendations, Walensky said that while the decrease in both cases and hospitalizations due to COVID are decreasing, and decisions need to be made on a local level in response to local needs, the CDC continues "to recommend masking in areas of high and substantial transmission in much of the country right now and indoor settings. And so we're of course taking a close look at this in real-time and we're evaluating rates of transmission as well as rates of severe outcomes."
A reporter followed up on that question, asking about the choices governors in Connecticut, Virginia, Oregon, California, Delaware, and expected changes by New York's unelected governor have made to remove mask requirements and mandates.
"Are you seeing any data that supports the decisions of these governors to drop mandates? And when it comes to masking, should people be listening to the CDC or listening to their governors?" asked another reporter.
In response, Walensky said that "we've always said that these decisions are going to have to be made at the local level and the policies at the local level will look at local cases. They'll look at how local hospitals are doing and they'll look at local vaccination rates. And they, as I understand it, in many of these decisions are using a phased approach. not all of these decisions are being made to stop things tomorrow, but they're looking at a phased approach. And so what I would say is, again, they have to be done at the local level, but I'm really encouraged."
The next question asked what metrics are being used to make changes to guidance. "The states have been asking explicitly, governors have asked explicitly, for guidance from the CDC on mask-wearing and how to relax mitigation efforts. Is the CDC prepared to provide guidance to the governor and when will it do so?"
Walensky said that while she and the CDC "are encouraged by the trends, we are not there yet." There was additionally no indication as to when the CDC would advise that children stop being forced to learn, exercise, and socialize at school with their faces covered.