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Tipsheet

CDC Announces Loosened Mask Guidelines, Allowing School Children to Finally Get Relief from Mandates

AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

After reports teased such an announcement was coming, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced on Friday that the agency was loosening mask restrictions for 70 percent of the country. Perhaps most pressingly, this will affect school-aged children in that guidelines no longer recommend they wear masks in the classroom unless they are in areas of "High" risk. 

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The 70 percent figure refers to those Americans who are in areas considered to be at "Low" or "Medium" risk for the Wuhan coronavirus, as the Associated Press outlined in its reporting of the updated guidelines on Friday. 

For those who are living in counties considered at "Low" risk, the CDC advises them to "Stay up to date with COVID-19 vaccines" and "Get tested if you have symptoms." The CDC recommends that those living in counties considered at "Medium" take an additional step on masks. "If you are at high risk for severe illness, talk to your healthcare provider about whether you need to wear a mask and take other precautions," that additional bullet point reads.

When it comes to those living in counties considered at "High" risk, the CDC guidelines still say to wear a mask.

The guidelines don't apply for mask mandates everywhere, however. As the Associated Press pointed out on Friday:

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. And the agency says people with COVID-19 symptoms or who test positive shouldn’t stop wearing masks.

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The news is nevertheless welcome for school children, though. As I covered last November and mentioned in last night's coverage of the announcement, the United States was one of just seven Western nations that still had such mask mandates in place. Further, according to Education Week, as of February 23, 11 states plus Washington, D.C. still have a "Mask Requirement in Effect."

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten released a statement on Friday, shortly after the updated guidelines were announced.

"We welcome these long-needed new metrics for a safe off-ramp from universal masking. The CDC’s guidance is informed by science, not politics, and sets us on a path to a new normal in schools and other public places. By using an analysis of hospitalizations in addition to community transmission, school districts, in collaboration with educators, staff, and families, can decide when to ease mask requirements—and we would urge everyone to apply it," Weingarten's statement opened with.

Much of the statement reflected a bold sense of self-congratulations, as the teachers' unions have been among the most vocal calling for mask mandates in schools to remain. 

Such an announcement, and reports that the announcement was coming, come less than a week before Biden is set to give his State of the Union address, which will be next Tuesday, on March 1, sparking a conversation that the timing is based on politics. 

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During last Friday's press briefing, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki had also emphasized that the CDC was a federal agency and that the Biden administration would continue to follow such guidance. Psaki did not provide a more clear answer when pressed by a reporter about the governors who had already been rescinding their mask mandates. 

Even some of the most liberal states have announced an end to mask mandates as of late, now that they've come around to recognizing the political science on the issue. 

However, it's worth warning that the CDC is still leaving the door open for mask mandates to return, even as the virus has been considered endemic and experts have acknowledged it's not going to go away.

Weingarten's statement also opened the door to bringing back mask mandates once more. "Our healthcare members will appreciate concrete metrics to inform policy that reflects their frontline experience. These metrics will help us decide if masking up will become necessary again should we face an emerging strain. Everyone is frustrated and exhausted, but this guidance ensures trust and transparency, not politics and politicians, can return to center stage," the statement ended, with added emphasis. 

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