Most Americans, including schoolkids, can take a break from masks, CDC confirms

Most Americans live in places where healthy people, including students in schools, can safely take a break from wearing masks under new U.S. guidelines released Friday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention outlined the new set of measures for communities where COVID-19 is easing its grip, with less of a focus on positive test results and more on what’s happening at hospitals.

The new system greatly changes the look of the CDC’s risk map and puts more than 70% of the U.S. population in counties where the coronavirus is posing a low or medium threat to hospitals. Those are the people who can stop wearing masks, the agency said.

The agency is still advising that people, including schoolchildren, wear masks where the risk of COVID-19 is high. That’s the situation in about 37% of U.S. counties, where about 28% of Americans reside.

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.

Many folks have been waiting over two years for the chance to hear live music and see sports in person again, but if you plan to attend events you still need to protect yourself against COVID, an expert says.

And not all the numbers are positive. At least 5.2 million children worldwide have lost a parent or caregiver to COVID-19, and researchers say urgent action is needed to help them.

Meanwhile, vaccination rate disparities persist. For example, when Nebraska officials refused to release information related to the number of residents getting COVID-19 vaccinations, Omaha World-Herald reporters Julie Anderson and Henry Cordes dug deep into federal data. What they found last year was the widest gap in the country between urban and rural vaccination rates. This episode of the podcast Behind the Headlines takes a deeper look.