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CDC updates COVID-19 community risk levels, removes mask mandate

By Kristen Hackbarth

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Friday updated how it assesses risk of COVID-19 at the community level, moving away from new cases and transmission levels and focusing more on severity of disease and hospital strain.

The new COVID-19 Community Levels rates counties as either low, medium or high risk based on new hospitalizations for COVID-19, number of hospital beds occupied by COVID-19 patients, and new COVID-19 cases overall.

Today, Washoe County is rated by the CDC as medium for community level risk. 

About half of the country is rated as either low or medium on the community tracker, according to CDC officials.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said the risk for severe diseases from COVID-19 is now generally lower than it has been, adding that it’s time to redirect focus from preventing all coronavirus cases to preventing severe disease and overwhelming the health care system.

“We’re in a strong place today as a nation with more tools to protect ourselves and our communities from COVID-19, like vaccinations, boosters, broader access to testing, availability of high-quality masks, accessibility to new treatments and improved ventilation,” Walensky said during a media call. 

“This updated approach focuses on directing our prevention efforts toward protecting people at high risk for severe illness and preventing hospitals and health care systems from being overwhelmed,” she added.

Walensky said more than 200 million Americans have received the primary COVID-19 vaccination series and 100 million have received the booster dose. The CDC continues to recommend COVID-19 vaccination and testing but has adjusted other mitigation recommendations based on the new community risk levels.

At the low level, vaccination and testing are recommended. 

Communities at the medium level are those seeing people with more severe disease, and the CDC recommends those at high risk for severe COVID-19 disease talk to their physician about extra precautions and consider wearing a mask.

When a community reaches the high level, hospitals and the healthcare system are beginning to be strained. The CDC recommends that in communities at this level everyone wear a mask indoors and in public places including schools.

Walensky added that people should always wear a mask if they have symptoms, have tested positive for COVID-19 or were exposed to someone with the virus.

Masking at schools, which has been controversial in many communities, is now only recommended for communities at the high level.

“We want to give people a break from things such as mask wearing when our levels are low, and then have the ability to reach for them again should things get worse in the future,” Walensky said.

To find the current community level for any county in the country visit cdc.gov or call 1-800-CDC-INFO.

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