CDC to release guidance Friday that would ease mask restrictions for many Americans

It comes after moves by governors to loosen or drop mandates.

February 24, 2022, 7:47 PM

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will release new and highly anticipated guidance on Friday that eases indoor masking recommendations in many parts of the U.S., officials told ABC News.

The new guidance is expected to outline how the country should move into the next phase of the pandemic, with a shifted focus from daily spread in a community to the more severe impacts of the virus, like hospitalizations and health care strain.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky has said publicly the agency was updating the guidance.

“Moving forward, our approach will advise enhanced prevention efforts in communities with a high volume of severe illness and will also focus on protecting our healthcare systems from being overwhelmed,” she tweeted late Thursday.

The new guidance will be intended to help states and counties decide what metrics should guide that decision at a local level. Omicron, which has substantially subsided across the country, left many Americans feeling eager to retain some normalcy during a potential lull in the pandemic.

The updated guidance comes after weeks of pressure from governors and state officials who asked for a clear roadmap at the national level.

Though a majority of states went ahead and announced that they will drop mask mandates before the CDC’s guidance was ready, the new information could still aid local leaders and public health officials who are facing vastly different versions of the pandemic even within the same state.

PHOTO: Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention meets with President Joe Biden and members of the White House Covid-19 Response Team at the White House, Dec. 9, 2021.
Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention meets with President Joe Biden and members of the White House Covid-19 Response Team at the White House, Dec. 9, 2021.
Bloomberg via Getty Images, FILE

And it will also give states and counties a guide to re-implement guidelines if a new variant pops up, which experts warn is a possibility.

The biggest shift in the guidance will be the focus on the most severe effects of the virus instead of just how many people are catching it. The CDC is expected to urge officials to make decisions based on how well their healthcare systems are working — emphasizing factors like hospital capacity and how sick people are getting — instead of how many cases there are in the community on a given day.

Walensky has cautioned, though, that there won’t be a “date certain” that ends the pandemic.

“I think we're gonna tiptoe out of this and that we will very gradually, one day, realize in retrospect, we're no longer in this anymore, or at least in it the way we have been for the last two years,” she said in a podcast interview on Tuesday.

ABC News' Anne Flaherty, Sony Salzman and Arielle Mitropoulos contributed to this report.

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