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WASHINGTON – Officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are reviewing the agency’s masking guidance as the number of people infected and hospitalized by COVID-19 drops nationwide, Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Wednesday.

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“We want to give people a break from things like mask-wearing when these metrics are better,” the CDC director said at a White House COVID-19 response team news briefing. She added that officials want people to “have the ability to reach for (things like mask-wearing) again, should things worsen.”

On Wednesday, Walensky said officials have seen a 40% drop in the seven-day daily average of COVID-19 cases, with about 147,000 new infections reported each day. The seven-day average of hospital admissions has also fallen by about 28% to 9,500 per day, while the seven-day average of daily deaths fell about 9% to 2,200 per day.

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“We are assessing the most important factors based on where we are in the pandemic and will soon put guidance in place that is relevant and encourages prevention measures when they are most needed to protect public health and our hospitals,” Walensky said.

“Omicron cases are declining, and we are all cautiously optimistic about the trajectory we are on. Things are moving in the right direction, but we want to remain vigilant to do all we can so that this trajectory continues.”

State and local officials nationwide have announced plans to phase out or drop mask mandates in recent days as the number of new COVID-19 cases continues to fall. On Monday, Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said she plans to begin dialing back mask mandates in the city beginning March 1 based on the downward trajectory of infections. White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Wednesday that federal officials will “wait for the CDC to make any changes” to its guidance before dropping mask mandates at the White House.

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“We are looking at an overview of much of our dance, and masking in all settings will be part of that,” Walensky said Wednesday. She did not provide a proposed timeline for any possible changes, though she said any updates “will be based on the data and the science.”

“Regardless of the level of disease burden in your community, there are still very important times to continue to wear your mask,” she said. “If you’re symptomatic or feeling unwell, you should wear a mask. If you’re in the 10 days after a COVID diagnosis, you should wear a mask. If you are exposed to someone with COVID-19 and are quarantining, you should wear a mask.”

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The CDC recommends that people who are not up to date with their COVID-19 vaccinations wear masks while indoors in public. Regardless of vaccination status, people aged 2 and older are advised to wear masks indoors in public in areas where officials have reported substantial or high community transmission. Walensky said about 97% of counties have such high transmission rates as of Wednesday.

People do not generally need to wear masks while outdoors, according to the CDC.

>> See the CDC’s full mask guidance

As of Tuesday morning, 76% of the U.S. population – 252.2 million people – has gotten at least one dose of any of the available COVID-19 vaccines, CDC data shows. More than 64% of Americans, or 214.1 million people, have been fully vaccinated, and 43% of those who have been fully vaccinated have gotten booster shots, according to the CDC.

Officials have confirmed more than 78.1 million COVID-19 infections and reported over 927,000 deaths nationwide, according to numbers compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Nearly 417.1 million COVID-19 cases have been reported worldwide, resulting in 5.8 million deaths, according to the university.