New guidance could be in place by the time President Joe Biden delivers his annual State of the Union speech next month
Centers for Disease Control director Rochelle Walensky on Wednesday said agency guidance on the use of masks to prevent transmission of Covid-19 could be “updated soon” based on new metrics which take into account the availability of new treatments as well as the need to ensure adequate hospital capacity for emergency patients.
“Our hospitals need to be able to take care of people with heart attacks and strokes — our emergency departments can’t be so overwhelmed the patients with emergent issues have to wait in line,” she said.
Dr Walensky said the agency is now “assessing the most important factors based on where we are in the pandemic” and plans to issue new guidance that she described as “relevant” and designed to encourage “prevention measures” as needed “to protect public health and our hospitals”.
“We want to give people a break from things like mask wearing when these metrics are better,” she said.
She added that the agency wants to leave in place the “ability” to “reach for” interventions such as masks if the situation worsens again and promised that any updated guidance “will be based on the data and the science”.
Many Democratic governors who were once some of the strongest proponents of mask mandates are now ordering them relaxed, citing the need to return to a state of normalcy after two years of pandemic measures.
Republicans have accused them of hypocrisy for appearing to consider the upcoming midterm elections in their decision-making process.
Asked about these state measures, Dr Walensky said the policies in question appeared to be “phased approaches” that take effect in late February or early March, and said she anticipated that the new CDC guidance would “intersect” with the new state policies “in terms of timing”.