CDC scientist says new measures to guide Covid-19 restrictions could arrive as soon as Friday

The CDC currently says people who live in counties with substantial or high levels of Covid-19 transmission should wear masks indoors. The agency won’t change those guidelines, but will change how it assesses “community levels of illness,” moving from looking at cases alone to looking at “significant consequences” of the virus such as hospitalizations, emergency room visits and deaths.

On the current map, 97% of the counties are substantial or high transmission. The scientist said the updated measures will result in fewer counties with the highest levels of transmission.

Advice on different mitigation measures, such as masking and social distancing, will be based on levels of illness in an individual county.

“It will be considered that when you get to that level, you’ll want to consider doing it; when you get to that level, you’ll want to consider doing it,” the CDC source said. “I hope they will emphasize the importance of local health departments making decisions based on local circumstances.”

The scientist said he saw different versions of the new measurements, but not the most recent version.

The current community transmission map is based on the number of new cases per 100,000 people and the percentage of positive tests over the past seven days.

The agency will change this metric for two reasons, the source said. One, many more Americans are vaccinated now. Second, Omicron, the dominant variant in the United States, is much more transmissible and causes much milder disease.

The source said the CDC now wants to focus more on meaningful consequences such as hospitalizations, emergency room visits and deaths, noting that this is similar to how the agency monitors the flu.

“The significant consequences of diseases give us a better impact of Covid on people and the health system,” said the scientist.

They added that the changes had been in the works for some time.

“It’s something that people have been engaging with and working really hard – I mean really hard – over the past few weeks,” the scientist said. “It started before Omicron, then Omicron pulled everyone in, and now we’re going to be able to finish it.”

Several states have announced changes to their Covid-19 restrictions, including easing masking requirements, and some governors have asked the CDC for clearer guidance on how to make such decisions.

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