New guidelines would likely come before the president’s State of the Union address.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was expected to relax its indoor masking guidelines as early as next week as COVID cases and hospitalizations continue to decline and the White House considers a new national strategy to outpace the pandemic.
At a press briefing on Wednesday, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said the agency is reviewing new measures to relax pandemic guidelines, including masks, and will provide those updated guidelines “soon. “.
The idea would be that local communities could relax COVID restrictions, such as indoor masking, based on factors such as intensive care bed capacity. While Walensky didn’t elaborate on what the benchmarks might entail, she said hospitalization levels are a key barometer.
“We want to give people a break from things like mask-wearing when those measures are better, and then have the flexibility to hit them again if things get worse,” Walensky told reporters.
The upcoming guidelines come as a growing number of Democratic governors have already announced plans to lift mask mandates in late February or March. These decisions were widely seen as a political calculation, driven by pandemic voter fatigue.
The CDC has urged states to continue recommending masks as long as case numbers remain high, even as it considers new referrals. NBC News first reported on the timing of the forecast expected as early as next week.
“Omicron cases are down, and we’re all cautiously optimistic about the trajectory we’re on,” Walensky said Wednesday. “Things are going in the right direction that we want to remain vigilant to do everything to ensure that this trajectory continues.”
The White House has denied any political involvement in the timing of the CDC’s upcoming announcement. President Joe Biden is expected to deliver his State of the Union address on March 1 in which he is expected to lay out his own detailed plan for moving the nation forward.
When ABC News asked at the press conference whether the Biden administration had pressured the public health agency for new guidelines by the end of the month — before Biden’s speech — a House official Blanche insisted the CDC had not been given a timeline.
Jeff Zients, Biden’s chief COVID coordinator, said, “The CDC is clearly in the lead here on the substance and timing of the masking guidelines.”