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CDC says that 70 percent of Americans can now remove their masks in public places

The University's mask mandate will remain in effect even as the mask mandate in public schools is lifted. – Photo by Anton / Unsplash

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released new guidelines that would allow for 70 percent of Americans to remove their masks in public places.

The updated guidelines are based on a nationwide map that classifies counties by either a high, medium or low coronavirus disease (COVID-19) community level based on factors such as the number of COVID-19-related hospital admissions in a particular area.

Only individuals living in communities classified as having a high COVID-19 community level are recommended to wear masks indoors, regardless of their vaccination status, along with individuals who have symptoms or faced exposure to COVID-19, or those who prefer to do so.

Brian L. Strom, chancellor of Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences and executive vice president for health affairs, said that these guidelines may sound confusing to some individuals but make sense given the various ways the virus affects people in different areas at different times.

“Between vaccination and the enormous contagiousness of omicron, the disease has now run into what my colleague ... calls a 'wall of immunity,'” he said. “With that, incidence rates are dropping precipitously. But it was and is (and always will be) variable in different geographic areas.”

Strom also said that in addition to offering guidelines that respond to local rates, the new guidelines focus more on hospitalization, rather than only cases. He said this metric is more meaningful because testing has become more varied and accessible from home.

On the statewide level, Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J.) signed an executive order that lifted the public health emergency in New Jersey effective yesterday, according to a press release

This executive order will only end the public health emergency announced in response to the detection of the omicron variant in January, not the state of emergency announced in March 2020.

By keeping the state of emergency in place, the state government will be able to access federal funding with less bureaucratic regulation, according to the release.

Murphy announced in a press release in February that the mask mandates for public schools and daycares would come to an end yesterday, as well. 

Strom said that as of now, Rutgers’ mask mandate is still in effect, but the University is looking into when and how it will change.

“We look at the science. CDC recommendations, and State (Department) of Health guidelines, are certainly things we look at as part of that, i.e. 'how did they interpret the same science?'" he said. "But our goal is to keep our community as safe as possible — we do not worry about the rest of the country’s rates in making our recommendations.”

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