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CDC Director Encourages Masks in Parts of U.S. as Covid-19 Cases Rise

The CDC is actively considering changing its guidance about the use of masks.

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Angela Weiss / AFP via Getty Images

The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that respiratory viruses, including Covid-19, are circulating at high levels across the U.S., and encouraged mask-wearing in certain parts of the country.

On a call for reporters on Monday, the CDC’s Dr. Rochelle Walensky said that cases of flu and respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, were higher than normal for this time of year, and that Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations had begun to rise after the Thanksgiving holiday.

“This rise in cases and hospitalizations is especially worrisome as we move into the winter months when more people are assembling indoors with less ventilation,” Walensky said.

Walensky encouraged vaccination against flu and Covid-19, and staying away from sick people, among other common preventive measures. She also advised wearing a mask, particularly in the parts of the U.S. that currently fit the CDC’s criteria for high levels of Covid-19.

“We also encourage you to wear a high-quality, well-fitting mask to prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses, most especially for those in the 5% of the population currently living in counties with high Covid-19 community level,” Walensky said.

Walensky said that the CDC is actively considering updating its masking guidance to take into account not just Covid-19’s spread, but also the spread of other respiratory viruses. “One need not wait for CDC action in order to put a mask on,” she told reporters.

As of Thursday, 5.7% of U.S. counties were at what the CDC calls a high Covid-19 community level. In those counties, which include parts of New York City and its suburbs, the agency recommends wearing a high-quality mask. A quarter of U.S. counties are at a medium level; in those places, high-risk people should wear a mask indoors in public, the CDC recommends.

Mask mandates have virtually disappeared in the U.S. While the CDC continues to recommend masking on planes, trains, or buses, there is no requirement to do so. Officials in Los Angeles said last week that they could reimpose the county’s mask mandate if cases there continue to rise.

Covid-19 hospitalizations are up 28% over the past 14 days, according to a New York Times tracker, while the test positivity rate is up 41%. On average, 261 people are dying a day from the virus, down 11% over the past two weeks.

Flu cases are up, too. Walensky told reporters on Monday that the CDC estimates that since the start of October, 8.7 million people in the U.S. have been ill with the flu, 78,000 people have been hospitalized, and 4,500 have died.

Walensky said that while RSV rates were high around the country, they appeared to have peaked in some regions, and were leveling off in others. “Our hospital systems continue to be stressed with high numbers of patients with other respiratory illnesses,” she said.

Write to Josh Nathan-Kazis at


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