ATLANTA — Friday afternoon marked a big change in how the spread of COVID-19 in local communities is measured by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The statistics the CDC uses accumulate to determine the level of spread in local communities are markedly different than it has been measured to this point, over two years into the pandemic.
And while the methodology is different and not easy to explain, what it means is that many communities will have the ability to end their mask mandates if they so choose.
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To put it simply, the new information is based on each individual county’s hospitalization rate, hospital capacity and number of cases. It’s a much shorter and more direct way of being able to measure the impact of severe COVID-19 cases in a community.
The agency has a new location on its website which will allow visitors to look at any county in any state in the country.
“The COVID-19 community level we are releasing today will inform CDC recommendations on prevention measures like masking and CDCs recommendations for layer prevention measures, and will depend on the COVID-19 level in the community,” said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky. “This updated approach focuses on directing our prevention efforts towards protecting people at high risk for severe illness and preventing hospitals and health care systems from being overwhelmed.”
“The updated metrics in this framework provide a current picture of COVID-19 disease in a community. They also include strong predictors of the potential for strain on the health care system,” said CDC’s Dr. Greta Massetti. “A community’s COVID-19 level is determined by a combination of three pieces of information: new hospitalizations for COVID-19, current hospital beds occupied by COVID-19 patients or hospital capacity, and new COVID-19 cases. These metrics will tell us if the level is low, medium, or high.”
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Dr. Massetti explains the three levels as “Low, Medium and High”:
- Low Level: There is limited impact on the health care system and low amounts of severe disease in the community.
- Medium Level: More people are experiencing severe disease in the community and there is an increased impact on the health care system.
- High Level: A high number of people are experiencing severe disease and there is a high potential for strain on the health care system.
There are individual recommendations for each of these levels:
- Low Level: Residents should stay up-to-date with vaccines and get tested if they feel sick. There are no mask restrictions.
- Medium Level: Anyone at risk, such as the immunocompromised, should talk to their doctor about precautions and consider wearing a mask.
- High Level: Everyone wears a mask indoors and in public, including in schools.
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While the CDC is no longer recommending people wear masks in lower-risk areas, it does not want to discourage people from using protection if it makes them feel safer. The CDC also said anyone who tests positive should wear a mask at all times to not pass the disease on to someone else.
The new policies for schools recommend that masks only be required when the community reaches a high level of transmission. Dr. Walensky said that infection levels nationwide have continued to improve over the past week, with roughly 70% of all Americans currently living in areas with low or medium COVID-19 levels. That number is nearly 33% higher than the week before.
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