Nearly two years to the day after the first coronavirus shutdown measures marked, for many, the beginning of the pandemic, the White House’s COVID-19 response team has released an updated plan to combat the virus as the nation seeks to return to normalcy—a plan that means that almost all Americans can feel safe in removing their face mask.
“Under the latest CDC recommendations, Americans in most of the country can now be mask-free,” said White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients in a briefing on the updates plan on Wednesday morning.
The National COVID-19 Preparedness Plan lays out the Biden administration’s roadmap to continue fighting the disease “as we move America from crisis to a time when COVID-19 does not disrupt our daily lives and is something we prevent, protect against, and treat,” said Zients.
“Our mission remains to protect the health and well being of every American,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Bacerra. “Bottom line, as we move forward, we will leave no one behind.”
The plan seeks to create new guidelines for masking policy, school and business closures, and the metrics by which those responses are triggered into action, as the nation slowly becomes more vaccinated against COVID-19 and as the fifth wave of the coronavirus pandemic wanes.
“We look to a future when Americans no longer fear lockdowns, shutdowns, and our kids not going to school,” states the plan, a copy of which was shared with reporters before the official announcement by the White House’s COVID-19 response team. “It’s a future when the country relies on the powerful layers of protection we have built and invests in the next generation of tools to stay ahead of this virus.”
The plan is composed of four main goals to address the pandemic going forward. First, protecting against COVID-19 infection and fast-tracking access to modern treatments; second, preparing for the rise of new variants that could potentially sidestep those protections; third, creating infrastructure to prevent the shutdowns of schools and businesses that essentially froze society in place for nearly two years; and working to expand vaccine access globally.
Much of the first goal is a repetition of the same new plans and shifts in strategy that President Joe Biden has announced periodically over his first year in office: encouraging vaccinations, ensuring access to booster shots, and vaccinating children under the age of five once such a vaccine has been approved.
But one key component of that goal—the shift in mask guidance to reflect the state of the disease as it relates to hospital capacity and severity, rather than merely community spread—will mark the most publicly identifiable shift back to something resembling a pre-pandemic normal.
The other goals are intended to prevent the rise of new variants—from expanding international access to vaccinations and treatments to tracking public health data from around the world—and to limit the effect that new waves might have on the American way of life. Businesses and schools will be receiving new guidelines, as well as tests and supplies, in order to remain open safely in the event of a spike in cases or the discovery of newer variants of the disease.
“These tools are how we continue to protect people, and enable us to move forward safely and get back to our more normal routines,” Zients said. “Going out to eat at a restaurant, taking that trip that’s been long delayed, arranging a playdate for your kids, seeing a sports game or movie or concert again.”