US mask
File picture: A pro-mask demonstration in Loudoun County, Virginia. Image Credit: WP

Washington: The White House told federal agencies late on Monday they can drop COVID-19 requirements that employees and visitors wear masks in federal buildings in much of the country, according to a document seen by Reuters.

The White House-led Safer Federal Workforce Task Force told agencies in new guidance that in counties with low or medium COVID-19 community levels they do not need to require individuals to wear masks in that federal facility, regardless of vaccination status.

The White House directed agencies to revise federal employee masking and testing rules no later than March 4, according to the previously unreported document. The new guidance covers about 3.5 million employees at federal agencies.

The District of Columbia, which is home to most federal agencies as well as nearby suburbs of Virginia and Maryland, which are home to the Pentagon, Central Intelligence Agency and many federal public health and other agencies, are all listed as low.

The guidance said when “a locality imposes more protective pandemic-related safety requirements, those requirements should be followed in federal facilities within that locality.” Earlier on Monday, the White House said effective Tuesday it is lifting the requirement that fully vaccinated individuals wear masks on the White House campus, but it added that testing, providing vaccination information, and other COVID-19 protocols remain in place.

The move comes after he US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Friday dramatically eased its COVID-19 guidelines for masks, including in schools, a move that means 72 per cent of the population reside in communities where indoor face coverings are no longer recommended.

The new masking guidelines shift from a focus on the rate of COVID-19 transmission to monitoring local hospitalizations, hospital capacity and infection rates.

Under the prior guidelines, 95 per cent of US counties were considered to be experiencing high transmission, leaving just 5 per cent of US counties meeting the agency’s criteria for dropping indoor mask requirements.