CDC issues new COVID-19 guidance based on community level

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has presented a new framework for monitoring novel coronavirus (COVID-19) and is loosening mask mandates in the United States based on community levels. According to the new guidance, 37 percent of counties in the U.S. or 28 percent of the population, are classified as being in a high-level community.  

COVID-19 and severe disease is now being evaluated as low, medium, or high in a community. These levels can now be check via a new tool issued by the CDC. Here, communities can gauge what prevention steps to take.

To determine the COVID-19 community level, the CDC looked at a combination of three metrics – new COVID-19 hospital admissions per 100,000 population in the past seven days; the percent of staffed inpatient beds occupied by COVID-19 patients; and a total of new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 population in the past seven days. According to the agency, new COVID-19 admissions, and the percent of staffed inpatient beds occupied represent the current potential for strain on the health system.

Using these data, the COVID-19 community level is classified as low, medium, or high. Prevention steps recommended for those in the low category include staying up-to-date with COVID-19 vaccines and getting tested if symptoms arise. Wearing a mask if you are in this category is based on personal preference.

If in a medium community level, the CDC recommends the same prevention steps as in the low category, but if an individual is at high risk for severe illness, they should talk to their practitioner about wearing a mask and any other precautions.

For those living in a high community level, the CDC recommends wearing a mask in public regardless of vaccination status or individual risk while indoors, including schools, and following the other levels of guidance.

“As the virus continues to circulate in our communities, we must focus our metrics beyond just cases in the community and direct our efforts toward protecting people at high risk for severe illness and preventing COVID 19 from overwhelming our hospitals and our healthcare systems,” said Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, director, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a media briefing. “This new framework moves beyond just looking at cases and test positivity to evaluate factors that reflect the severity of disease, including hospitalizations and hospital capacity, and helps to determine whether the level of COVID 19 and severe disease are low, medium, or high in a community.”

Walensky said even though there are more tools to prevent COVID-19, it’s important to be prepared for what comes next.

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

Regardless of level, the CDC continues to recommend that people stay up to date on vaccines and get tested if they’re sick. For more information on prevention strategies, visit the CDC guidance.