New CDC Guidance Means Most Allegheny County Residents Can Stop Masking — For Now

According the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 70% of the country can safely take a break from masking.


The rules have changed as to who should continue to wear a mask to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Friday’s announcement by the CDC drastically changes the shape of the center’s risk map. Instead of focusing on the number of new infections and positive test results, the CDC will now base its risk assessment largely on the potential threat to hospitals. Folks who live in places where COVID-19 is posing a low or even a medium risk to health care facilities will no longer be required to wear masks, meaning that about 70% of the U.S. — including Allegheny County, which is in the “low” category — can choose to lose the face coverings.

You can find out the risk level of your community here.

“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 health care systems,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, at Friday’s telebriefing.

She added that there are people who remain at higher risk of contracting the virus who may need to continue to mask up, regardless of what level their community is in.

Dr. Greta Massetti from the CDC’s COVID-19 Incident Management Team also spoke at the briefing, stating that the updated metrics paint a “current picture of COVID-19.” 

“A community’s COVID 19 level is determined by a combination of three pieces of information: new hospitalizations for COVID 19, current hospital beds occupied by COVID 19 patients or hospital capacity, and new COVID 19 cases. These metrics will tell us if the level is low, medium or high,” she said.

At the low level, there is limited impact on the health care system and low amounts of severe disease in the community. Folks in low-risk places like Allegheny County should still stay up to date on their vaccines and get tested if they feel sick.

At the medium level, more people are experiencing severe disease and the health care system is starting to see greater strain. At this level, the CDC recommends that people who are high risk — those who are immunocompromised, for example — should talk to their health care provider about taking additional precautions that may or may not include wearing a mask.

At the high level, a greater number of people are experiencing severe disease and there is a “high potential” for health care system strains. At this level, the CDC recommends that everyone wears a mask indoors, in public and in schools. (Previous recommendations required universal masking in schools regardless of transmission level.)

“None of us know what the future may hold for us and for this virus and we need to be prepared and we need to be ready for whatever comes next. 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,” Walensky said. “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.”

Still, cities, businesses and other institutions are free to set their own rules regardless of the CDC’s recommendations. Many local businesses still have signs on their doors urging patrons to mask up — as is their prerogative — and individuals who are at higher risk are still free to choose to wear masks regardless of the risk level in their communities.

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