Nearly half of Americans live in areas where they should consider masking indoors to curb an increase in COVID-19 cases, according to data updated Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s an increase from about a third of Americans last week.
More than 16% of Americans now live in areas with “high” COVID-19 community levels, up from just 9% last week. At this level, which reflects the worst levels of illness in the agency’s guidelines, the CDC says all Americans should wear masks in public indoor environments, regardless of vaccination – including in schools.
A further 29% now live in areas with “medium” disease levels, up from 23% last week. At that level, the CDC urges Americans to consider wearing masks and testing before indoor contact with people at high risk for serious illness, such as older adults or those with underlying disorders.
The CDC typically revises its official COVID-19 Community Level metrics once a week on Thursday night. However, many local health departments often issue their own warnings prior to the updates.
New York City neighborhoods now rank among the most populous counties in the country at “high” COVID-19 levels. City officials raised their own alarm levelTuesday, citing a worrying jump in COVID-19 admissions.
“New York City has moved to a high COVID alert level, which means it’s time to double down on protecting ourselves and each other by making choices that can prevent our friends, neighbors, relatives and colleagues from get sick, “the city’s health commissioner said in a statement.
The city joins large parts of the region, which have been at “high” levels of COVID-19 for weeks, as counties have recorded increases in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations – especially among the oldest, most vulnerable age groups.
Cases in nursing homes have also increased in recent weeks in the Northeast, although recent data published by the CDC suggests that the pace of new infections may now slow down.
Outside of the Northeast, the CDC says communities from Honolulu to Detroit are currently at “high” levels. Dozens of counties – including Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Washington, DC – are now on “medium”.
The new levels trigger a series of precautions for buildings in these areas across the federal government. According to Biden Administration rules, agencies must require masking in federal facilities and step up testing in “high” COVID-19 areas.
But few communities now re-entering “high” COVID-19 community levels have decided to re-implement mask requirements for residents.
“For areas that currently have a high COVID-19 community level – those in orange – we urge local leaders to encourage the use of prevention strategies such as masking in public indoor environments and increasing access to testing and treatment,” the CDC said. Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky to reporters on Wednesday, ahead of the updated figures.
“And at any COVID-19 community level, individuals can always choose to wear a mask to protect themselves from infection,” Walensky later added.
Walensky and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the president’s senior medical adviser, recently said they were sometimesmasks even in areas with “low” COVID-19 levels.
The rise comes as health officials warn that the true number of COVID-19 cases is increasingly being underestimated as a growing proportion of Americans adopt home tests.
Test positivity has risen above 10%, well above the 5% benchmark that is sometimes used as a sign that many infections are being overlooked.
“Home tests are amazing, by the way. I’ve been a big fan of home tests for the last two years. But that means we definitely count down infections,” Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House ‘topcovid- 19 official, said.