The C.D.C. releases new masking guidance and Queen Elizabeth tests positive: The week in Covid news.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidance this week under which more than two-thirds of the country will no longer be advised to wear masks.
The new recommendations, announced on Friday, direct counties to assess their risk level based on Covid-related hospital admissions, hospital capacity and local case rates. Only in counties where those criteria point to high risk do people need to wear masks, according to the C.D.C. — and only about 30 percent of Americans live in counties where that is currently the case.
“We want to give people a break from things like masking when our levels are low, and then have the ability to reach for them again should things get worse in the future,” said Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, the director of the C.D.C. “We need to be prepared, and we need to be ready for whatever comes next.”
Public reaction to the change was mixed.
Several scientists said it was justified by case rates, which have fallen 65 percent in the past two weeks and are back to where they were before the Omicron surge, though still very high by pre-Omicron standards. (As of Friday, the country was reporting an average of 72,754 new infections per day — and deaths, which lag infections by several weeks, are still averaging more than 1,800 per day.) But many people at high personal risk, including Americans who are disabled or chronically ill, fear that the relaxed precautions will endanger them.
The C.D.C.’s recommendations are not binding, and most states had already lifted or loosened mask mandates before the agency endorsed doing so. But the new guidelines are likely to prompt more individuals, including private business owners and employers who set rules for their own staff and customers, to move in that direction.
Here’s what else happened this week:
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Monday that he intended to lift all of England’s remaining pandemic-related precautions, including regular contact tracing, free testing and a requirement that people isolate if they test positive. He made the announcement a day after the revelation that Queen Elizabeth II had tested positive for the virus. The prime minister presented the changes for England — not applicable to Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, which set their own health regulations — as a return to normalcy, but many people at high risk said they would have to further isolate themselves as a result.
A new study from the C.D.C. found that, among people who took a rapid antigen test five to nine days after receiving a Covid diagnosis or developing symptoms of Covid, more than half tested positive. That calls into question the agency’s isolation guidelines, which say that many people with Covid can stop isolating after five days with no need to take another test.
After keeping the virus under control for two years, Hong Kong is experiencing a huge Covid wave that has overwhelmed hospitals and hit older residents especially hard. The carnage has exposed ways in which the city has been complacent: Less than half of Hong Kong residents ages 70 and older were vaccinated before the Omicron surge, because the risk had seemed low for so long and officials had done little to counter misinformation about vaccines. Leaders plan to require all of Hong Kong’s seven million residents to get tested next month.
A trucker demonstration in the United States, planned as a copycat version of the recent protests against pandemic policies in Canada, left California on Wednesday en route to Washington, D.C. The organizers oppose mask and vaccine requirements and want the government to end its national emergency declaration, but many of them also have connections to far-right groups involved in the Jan. 6 riot.