Guidance will not change on face masks, COVID-19 cases predicted to peak in US: CDC Director Walensky

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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Wednesday that the agency’s guidance on face masks would not change. 

“[The] CDC continues to recommend that any mask is better than no mask and we do encourage all Americans to wear a well-fitting mask to protect themselves and prevent the spread of COVID-19. And, the recommendation is not going to change,” she told reporters during the White House COVID-19 response team briefing. 

“Maybe I’ll just note that we are preparing an update to the information on our mask website to best reflect the options that are available to people, as you note, and the different levels of protection different masks provide. And, we want to provide Americans [with] the best and most updated information to choose what mask is going to be right for them,” she added.

The Washington Post reported Monday that the agency was working to update its guidance to recommend people opt for the highly protective N95 or K95 masks, citing “an official close to the deliberations.”

Rochelle Walensky, Director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), speaks during a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022. 
(Photographer: Shawn Thew/EPA/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

“The agency is currently actively looking to update its recommendations for KN95 and N95 in light of omicron,” the official reportedly said. “We know these masks provide better filtration.”

White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients assured Wednesday that the administration has stockpiled 750 million N95 masks for health care workers and first responders, and is currently “strongly considering” options to make more high-quality masks available to all Americans.

As the omicron variant continues to surge, sending hospitalizations and case numbers skyrocketing to record highs, Walensky cited a preprinted study of data from Southern California’s Kaiser Permanente that had been analyzed by academic partners with CDC collaboration and funding. 

The data, she continued, “provided key insight into clinical outcomes” among patients infected with the variant of concern, using mathematical modeling to estimate the risk of hospitalization and severe disease.

“The data in this study remained consistent with what we are seeing from omicron in other countries, including South Africa and the U.K., and provides some understanding of what we can expect over the coming weeks as cases are predicted to peak in this country,” Walensky explained. 

While early evidence shows omicron is less severe than the delta variant – with those infected less likely to require hospitalization – she instructed that it was important to note that omicron continues to be much more transmissible. 

“We must do – all of us – do our part to protect our hospitals and our neighbors and reduce the further spread of this virus,” Walensky stated, encouraging Americans to wear masks in public indoor settings with high transmission, testing before gathering with others and staying “up to date” on COVID-19 vaccinations. 

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