Pennsylvania expected to follow CDC relaxation of mask guidance

File photo: A sign requiring masks as a precaution against the spread of the coronavirus is posted on a store front in Philadelphia, on Feb. 16, 2022. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

File photo: A sign requiring masks as a precaution against the spread of the coronavirus is posted on a store front in Philadelphia, on Feb. 16, 2022. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed everything. We’re all still trying to figure out how to live with it. What should we know about how you approach the world now? How has the pandemic changed your social life, your work life, your interactions with your neighbors?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention loosened its mask guidelines Friday — and Pennsylvania’s Acting Secretary of Health Keara Klinepeter says the state will likely follow.

“Today, vaccines and therapeutic treatments are widely available across the state,” Klinepeter said. “Businesses, schools and residents are open and have the tools and knowledge they need to move beyond the current phase of the pandemic.”

Klinepeter told reporters at a press conference Friday that case counts are the lowest they’ve been since last August, and hospital admissions and mortality rates are falling.

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“However, moving forward does not mean ignoring COVID-19,” Klinepeter said. “Our strategy includes a continued focus on prevention while being nimble enough to quickly respond to any changes in the COVID-19 landscape.”

A big part of the state’s strategy going forward will be “empowering individuals,” Klinepeter said.

“Which we want to do by encouraging them to stay up to date on their vaccinations and making sure they’re educated about the level of community spread in their community so that they can make good personal decisions about things like mask wearing, testing, that type of thing,” she said.

The state still recommends masking indoors regardless of vaccination status. But now that the CDC has incorporated hospital capacity metrics into its masking guidelines, people in fewer counties will be advised to wear masks inside, and Klinepeter indicated the state will follow the CDC.

“We will be following CDC guidance and encourage Pennsylvanians to do the same,” Klinepeter told reporters Friday just a few hours before the new guidelines were issued.

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As municipalities and states continue to drop COVID restrictions, and workplace flexibilities dwindle, immunocompromised people find themselves increasingly unprotected. Pennsylvanians who are immunocompromised or who live or work with vulnerable individuals may want to continue wearing masks, Klinepeter said, but will need to make that decision on their own.

“That’s why we’re very focused on making sure that the data about the community transmission in everyone’s community is accessible to them and is presented in a way that they can really understand it and make good choices for themselves,” she said. “I think it’s important that as we enter this next phase, we continue to grant grace to other people who are making the best decisions they can.”

Klinepeter said the state could enter yet another phase of the pandemic if cases rise again.

A new strain of the omicron variant is spreading across the country, including in PA, Delaware, and New Jersey.

State officials continue to encourage Pennsylvanians to get vaccinated and boosted. More than 76% of Pennsylvania adults are fully vaccinated.

“Every death is tragic and at this point, preventable with vaccinations,” Klinepeter said.

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