By: James L. Curtis, Patrick D. Joyce, Adam R. Young, Melissa Ortega, and Craig B. Simonsen
Seyfarth Synopsis: On Friday, February 25, 2022, the CDC significantly eased COVID-19 mask guidelines. The new guidelines are based on COVID-19 community levels.
As the COVID-19 surge fueled by the Omicron variant began to retreat, many states eased or planned to ease COVID-19 masking mandates. On Friday, February 25, 2022, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) followed suit when it released much-anticipated updated mask guidelines based upon Community Level metrics. Under the new guidelines, most healthy people across the U.S. are no longer advised to mask in indoors environments. Masking is recommended only in areas of high community transmission, determined by hospitalization rates, hospital ICU usage, and new cases.
The new CDC guidelines make no distinction between vaccinated or unvaccinated individuals. The CDC continues to recommend “layered prevention strategies,” which include staying up to date on vaccines and wearing masks, to prevent severe illness and a potential strain on the healthcare system.
Low COVID-19 Community Level
For those who live in counties with a “low” COVID-19 Community Level, the CDC guidelines do not recommend masking in any setting, leaving mask use up to the individual. However, the CDC continues to recommend staying up to date on COVID-19 vaccines, and testing when experiencing symptoms.
Medium Community Level
For those who live in counties with a “medium” COVID-19 Community Level and are either (1) immunocompromised or at high risk for severe illness; or (2) live with someone who is at high risk for severe illness, the CDC recommends they continue to wear a mask while indoors in public setting. In addition, the CDC continues to recommend that everyone in a “medium” Community Level stay up to date on COVID-19 vaccines and test when experiencing symptoms.
High Community Level
For individuals who live in counties with a “high” COVID-19 Community Level, the CDC guidelines recommend that they continue to wear well-fitting masks while indoors in public, regardless of vaccination status or individual risk. For those who are immunocompromised or at high risk of severe illness, the CDC recommends a well-fitting masks or respirator.
While many counties remain at a high level, approximately 70% of Americans live in counties where guidelines have now eased. Employers may check individual Community Levels by county here.
Notwithstanding, employees who are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, test positive for COVID-19, or have been exposed to COVID-19 should continue to wear a mask according to the CDC. Employers who wish to continue requiring that employees wear a mask, may continue to do so (subject to state or local laws banning masking requirements).
For more information on this or any related topic please contact the author, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the Workplace Safety and Health (OSHA/MSHA) Team.