"We're in a stronger place today as a nation with more tools to protect ourselves and our community from COVID-19," Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said.
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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday eased its recommendations for face mask-wearing across a significant swath of the U.S.

"We're in a stronger place today as a nation with more tools to protect ourselves and our community from COVID-19," Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said on a call with reporters on Friday.

Instead of focusing on COVID-19 case numbers, the CDC is considering hospitalization rates and hospital capacity on a county-by-county basis.

The new approach measures the need for masks by "community levels," and is a way to, "give people a break from mask-wearing when levels are low," she said.

Under the CDC's previous guidelines, face masks were recommended for about 95 percent of the counties in the U.S. The CDC's change in approach to managing the pandemic comes as cities across the U.S. are scaling back their own COVID-19 prevention measures, thanks to rapidly falling caseloads.

In Chicago, for example, a face mask and vaccination requirement is set to expire on Monday.

"It looks as if the worst of the Omicron surge is behind us and we will be able to safely remove these emergency measures," Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in announcing the change.

An indoor face mask mandate in place in New York City expired earlier this month.

Under the CDC's new approach, about 70 percent of the country is considered low-to-medium risk and will no longer be advised to require face masks in any setting, including schools.

The remainder of the country is considered high-risk and face mask requirements should remain, according to the CDC's new guidance.

The federal mandate requiring face masks on planes, trains, and public transit also remains in place. The CDC's latest update is "intended for communities not for travel," Walensky said.

That mandate is set to be revisited in the coming weeks, and the Association of Flight Attendants is pushing for it to be extended.

"The airplane is a unique, but controlled environment for everyone's safety. The layered approach to safety and security includes masks," it said in a statement released to The New York Times this week.

Meena Thiruvengadam loves wandering new streets and discovering the world's stories. Subscribe to her newsletter, and look for her on Facebook and Instagram.