On Feb. 25, 2022, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) relaxed its masking recommendations. Under the new guidance, the CDC only recommends individuals mask while indoors in public if their community is categorized as high risk. The CDC is no longer recommending masks for individuals in low- or medium-risk communities. However, the CDC recommends that individuals who are at high risk for severe illness speak with their health care provider about whether to wear a mask in medium-risk communities.

The CDC’s guidance categorizes communities into high, medium, or low risk based on the rates of new COVID-19 hospitalizations, current beds occupied by COVID-19 patients or hospital capacity, and new COVID-19 cases. The CDC is publishing information and ratings for all U.S. counties on its website.

OSHA is expected to adopt or partially adopt the CDC’s recommendations, but it has not yet commented on the CDC change. As such, many employers may reconsider removing or relaxing their masking policies. But before removing mask mandates, employers should conduct an individualized assessment of the threat in their workplace. Employers in high-risk industries, such as health care and meat-packing, should consult legal counsel prior to lifting mask mandates. Finally, employers should review their local and state masking requirements and continue to comply with those requirements.

Employers are permitted to maintain stricter masking policies, and should accommodate employees who want to continue to mask, especially those who are at increased risk for serious illness.