New CDC Mask Guidance: Here's What We Know So Far

According to long-awaited guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it's now safe for most Americans to safely take a break from wearing masks while indoors.

The new guidance outlined comes as most parts of the U.S. see declines in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths, easing further restrictions.

Here's what we know of the guidance so far:

Who still has to wear masks?

The new system greatly changes the look of the CDC's risk map and puts more than 70% of the U.S. population in counties where the coronavirus is posing a low or medium threat to hospitals.

Those are the people who can stop wearing masks, the agency said.

What should you do around the Chicago area based on where you live?

In the Chicago-Naperville-Elgin metropolitan area, which includes portions of Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin, all 15 counties but one are ranked as "low" community levels, and as a result, masks aren't recommended.

Only Kenosha County, Wisconsin, is said to be in the "high" category, meaning people are advised to wear masks in public indoor spaces, including schools, and take additional precautions if at risk for severe illness.

LaSalle County, which technically sits outside the designated metropolitan area, has been ranked as a "medium" community level. In such areas, those at risk for severe illness are encouraged to talk to their health care provider about whether a mask should be worn and if other precautions should be taken, according to the CDC.

While Chicago-area counties aren't experiencing troublesome metrics, the situation is different in other parts of Illinois.

Here's where Chicago and Illinois stand and what to do based on where you live.

Are masks still required in schools, according to the CDC?

The agency is still advising people, including schoolchildren, to wear masks where the risk of COVID-19 is high. That's the situation in about 37% of U.S. counties, where about 28% of Americans live.

Illinois will end its requirement of face masks in schools Monday, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Friday after the Illinois Supreme Court denied his appeal of a restraining order in a lawsuit challenging the mask mandate.

In a statement, Pritzker explained Illinois will move forward to remove its school mask mandate after the Centers for Disease Control updated guidance to recommend masks only in areas of high COVID transmission.

Prior to Pritzker's announcement, Chicago Public Schools said face coverings would still be required in the classroom following the latest CDC guidance. However, CPS has not issued an update as of Friday evening at around 6:30 p.m.

Earlier this week, the Archdiocese of Chicago announced that all of its schools that were still under a mask mandate will instead switch to a mask-optional set of mitigations beginning on Monday.

According to a letter to parents, the Archdiocese says that its schools in Chicago, Evanston and Oak Park will be mask-optional for teachers and students beginning on Feb. 28, the same day that the state of Illinois and the city of Chicago will remove their mask mandates in indoor spaces.

Must you still wear masks on public transportation?

The new recommendations do not change the requirement to wear masks on public transportation and indoors in airports, train stations and bus stations. The CDC guidelines for other indoor spaces aren’t binding, meaning cities and institutions even in areas of low risk may set their own rules.

The agency also said people with COVID symptoms or who test positive shouldn’t stop wearing masks.

What metrics must be met to remove masks indoors, based on the new guidance?

Under the new guidance, masks won't be required indoors if average new cases fall below 200 per 100,000 residents, there are fewer than 10 COVID hospital admissions per 100,000 people over the past week and COVID patients are taking up less than 10% of available hospital beds, based on a seven-day average.

If cases exceed 200 per 100,000 people, masks would be required indoors if new weekly COVID admissions exceed 10 per 100,000 people and patients are taking up 10% or more of hospital beds, based on a seven-day average, according to the CDC's new guidance.

NBC Chicago/Associated Press
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