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INDIANAPOLIS — The CDC announced significant changes in the fight against COVID-19, loosening federal guidelines on masks in indoor public spaces.

As cases continue downward, officials are shifting metrics to include more of a focus on hospitalizations and capacity.

Using new metrics, most of the country can go without masks in indoor spaces, as long as area hospitals are not overwhelmed with COVID patients.

However, masks are still required on public transportation and inside those facilities. Local cities, businesses and institutions can also implement their own rules, even if the area they’re in is considered low risk.

“I think the changes they’re making make sense from a public health, epidemiology standpoint,” said Dr. Shandy Dearth, director of the Center for Public Health Practice at IUPUI Fairbanks School of Public Health.

With more tools readily available to help fight COVID, Dearth says it’s reasonable for leaders to start looking toward taking the endemic step.

“We need to make sure it doesn’t get so bad out in the community again that it starts to affect the hospitals,” said Dearth.

Dr. Shaun Grannis with the Regenstrief Institute said the numbers are encouraging.

“The number of COVID related hospitalizations is the lowest it’s been since March of 2020,” said Dr. Shaun Grannis, vice president for data and analytics at Regenstrief Institute. “The numbers are pointing in an excellent direction.”

Though metrics are trending in a positive direction, they say this doesn’t mean to pitch your mask all together.

With transmission still fairly high, experts strongly encourage people to evaluate their risks in choosing to mask up or not.

“We don’t anticipate this virus is going to be gone. It’s just getting under control to where the medical system can deal with it.”

Dr. Christopher Belcher

“We don’t anticipate this virus is going to be gone. It’s just getting under control to where the medical system can deal with it,” said Dr. Christopher Belcher, infection prevention medical director at Ascension St. Vincent Indianapolis. “If you’re going to be indoors, in a large crowd, you have to consider you risks.”

“For people who are very high risk, where the vaccines may not work, they may not be eligible for the vaccine or if they have underlying conditions where vaccines may not be predicted to completely protect them, people may want to continue to wearing a well fitting mask,” Belcher added.

If you test positive for the virus, experts also recommend masking up even after the shortened quarantine period.

“At least a third of people are still infectious after the five day mark of COVID. So you still definitely need to wear a mask in that situation,” said Dearth.

As many anticipate masks coming off, experts said they’re also predicting the return of other viral illnesses, like influenza.

Flu cases still remain drastically low, especially within the last two years. Experts say a big part of that is the mitigation efforts, like masks, used to prevent COVID.

“Last year, influenza was almost non-existent, very very low case count,” said Grannis. “Clearly, the mitigation steps we’ve been taking, including masking, can have a great impact.”

As people continue to navigate COVID and the next steps, experts recommend Hoosiers follow what’s happening to make the best decisions for themselves and their family.

“What made this story possible, I think, is the lower case numbers,” said Grannis. “So I want people to understand we’re seeing excellent, low case numbers right now, low hospitalizations, which is very encouraging, and I would encourage folks to continue to track what’s happening with coronavirus and make decisions that make the most sense for themselves.”