CDC eases masking recommendations, some in Twin Cities take caution

As of Friday, 70% of Americans can choose to stop wearing a mask under new Centers for Disease Control guidelines. The federal agency announced new recommendations, which are based on the level of COVID in each county across the country.

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A new CDC map shows counties have been designated as having a low, medium or high level of COVID-19 in their community. The designations are based on new hospitalizations, hospital beds occupied by COVID-19 patients or hospital capacity and new COVID-19 cases.

According to the CDC, masks should be worn indoors in areas with high levels of COVID. In counties with medium levels of COVID, it’s recommended that people with high risk talk to their doctor about taking additional precautions and may wear a mask.

RELATED: Many healthy Americans can take a break from masks

It is safe to not wear a face-covering in areas with low levels of the disease in the community, according to the CDC. Everyone is encouraged to still get vaccinated and tested when needed.

“I think it is the right time,” Dr. Ashish Jha, the dean of Brown University School of Public Health, told ABC News. “We are off the omicron surge and we have a large proportion of our population now vaccinated and immunized. And that means moving towards these new metrics makes a lot of sense.”

Fifty-one counties in Minnesota have low or medium levels of COVID in the community, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

While the new federal guidelines also apply to schools, some Twin Cities districts are taking caution.

“Before we relax or change any of our health and safety protocols, we want to make sure it’s the right time and the right reason,” said Kevin Burns, the spokesperson for Saint Paul Public Schools.

He explained they plan to continue with the district’s mask mandate. Each quarter, SPPS reassesses its COVID protocols. The district’s next quarter starts on Apr. 4.

“Between now and the first part of April, we fully anticipate the Board of Education to look at the statistics, talk to our leaders of health and wellness, compare data from Ramsey County public health — our wonderful partners here locally — to make a decision about furthering our mask policy or whether to rescind it,” said Burns.

Minneapolis Public Schools Spokesperson Crystina Lugo-Beach told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS, “We do not have any plans to change our requirements at this time.”

Several theaters, including the Guthrie and Jungle Theater, also confirmed mask mandates will remain in effect. The Orpheum will continue requiring face coverings as well.

“We work with a number of external groups and organizations, unions,” said Dale Stark, the public relations manager for Hennepin Theatre Trust. “Most significantly with our Broadway touring, we work with those individual shows and those shows work with national experts and the Broadway League. We all work together to make sure they’re able to go city to city with a consistent experience… we wouldn’t really be able to alter ours without it being more of a national change.”

Stark said, however, the CDC’s announcement also creates a sense of optimism.

“This of course is great news for the Twin Cities area because it is a sign that things are improving and we’re headed in the right direction,” he said.

MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm shared a statement in response to the guidelines:

“We are relieved to see COVID-19 case numbers drop in Minnesota and around the country as the Omicron wave recedes. As today’s announcement from CDC indicates, we are continuing to learn more about how best to assess risk for people and for communities, and now we are entering a phase of the pandemic in which such decisions will be driven more by local and individual factors.

“This new framework recommends everyone wear masks indoors only in areas with high spread, as defined by their new indicators. According to this new framework, 51 Minnesota counties are at the low or medium level where masking recommendations are dependent on individual factors. In the weeks ahead we encourage Minnesotans to be in touch with their health care provider if they have questions, and use the layers of protection they feel appropriate in light of their community and personal circumstances.

“Regardless of the COVID-19 level in a community, we recommend people stay up to date on their COVID-19 vaccines and get tested when needed.

“While it is now clear that COVID-19 will not be eliminated anytime soon, we are at a point where it has become less of an imminent threat for many Minnesotans thanks to vaccines and other tools available to us. Our team is remaining vigilant and working hard to ensure that Minnesotans have ongoing access to these tools. The decreasing disease burden in Minnesota gives us reason to anticipate brighter days ahead.”