CDC Relaxes Mask Guidance
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new mask guidance Feb. 25, recommending most people can take a break from face coverings.
The agency created a new three-tier set of metrics to help people understand when they should wear a mask based on what is happening inside a community’s hospitals, rather than positive testing rates.
The majority of Connecticut is considered low risk under the new guidance heading into March 2022, meaning masks are not recommended, with Middlesex County rated medium risk.
The CDC is encouraging people in the low risk category to stay up to date with their vaccinations and test and if they have symptoms of COVID-19.
According to officials with the CDC, high levels of vaccination and population immunity from both vaccination and infection have greatly reduced the risk of severe disease for most people, leading to the change in guidance.
“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 system,” said CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky.
The updated CDC standards rank communities by high, medium, or low transmission levels.
Each level is classified through a combination of three metrics:
- New COVID-19 admissions per 100,000 population in the past seven days
- The percent of staffed beds of inpatients with COVID-19
- Total new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 population in the past seven days.
While the CDC uses the new case data to serve as an early indicator for potential increased strain on the healthcare system, the level is determined primarily by the first two metrics.
Prevention steps differ based on community level.
According to the CDC, people in low level communities should get vaccinated as recommended, and test for the virus if they have symptoms.
People who are at high risk of contracting severe illness from COVID-19, who live in medium level communities, should talk to their healthcare provider about wearing a mask and taking other precautions, but people at low risk can follow the same guidance as those in low level communities.
High risk communities should encourage people to wear masks indoors in public. People at high risk in those communities may need to take extra precautions as well to keep themselves safe, according to the CDC.
It is important to note that new recommendations do not impact mask requirements inside airports and on public transportation, such as planes, trains and buses.
Effective Feb. 28, 2022, the state of Connecticut mandated mask wearing in healthcare settings and shelters only.
Masking in schools is now left up to local and regional boards of education, with districts across the state adopting different measures.
Hartford, New Haven, and Stamford school districts said they will continue to require masks, but smaller districts like Farmington and West Hartford are leaving the decision up to individual students and staff.
City-wide mask mandates, implemented by leaders during various spikes of coronavirus cases, are expiring as well.
New Haven’s mask mandate for most indoor public places ends Mar. 7, while Hartford’s mayor ended the mask mandate in February.
Businesses in some situations have locations in various parts of the states with different municipal rules related to masking.
“Employers should remember that they still have the discretion to enforce rules that are more strict than their local municipal guidelines, and that they may distinguish between vaccinated and unvaccinated employees and customers,” CBIA HR Counsel Diane Mokriski said.
In making a decision, Mokriski recommends employers evaluate the risk of infection at their business based on physical space, employee vaccination rates, and infection rates in the area.
Some employees will still feel more comfortable wearing masks regardless of a mandate, but the employee should not be discouraged or mocked if that is their decision.
“A business that allows its employees to harass, mistreat, or retaliate against those who wear masks risks exposure to a discrimination lawsuit,” Mokriski added.
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