Covid-19 updates, Featured, State News

Universal unmasking is likely on its way

Five of Vermont’s 14 counties (including Rutland) are considered high risk, per CDC, and should not unmask

By Polly Mikula

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention relaxed its Covid-19 precautions Friday, Feb. 25, by allowing people in areas of low and moderate transmission to remove masks indoors.

“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,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC.

Courtesy CDC
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued new guidelines for universal mask wearing indoors on Friday, Feb. 25. The new guidance focuses more on hospital capacity than case numbers when assessing risk. The CDC published a map of the U.S. rating each county in America as low (green), medium (yellow) or high risk (orange). Only high risk counties are now recommended by the CDC to universally wear masks indoors. As of Tuesday, March 1, Vermont had not adopted these guidelines, but if they do, Rutland is considered high risk.

The new Covid-19 Community Levels tool on the CDC website classifies counties as low, medium, or high risk — green, yellow or orange, respectively. The levels are now determined by the number of hospital beds used, hospital admissions, as well as the total number of new cases in an area. Prior to Friday, the determining factors were based solely on transmission measures, namely: case count and positivity rate. Under those prior conditions, 95% of the U.S. was considered “high risk,” according to the Associated Press.

Now, under the new CDC guidelines, only about 30% of residents are “high risk,” meaning about 70% of the nation now qualify to unmask indoors in public.

However, the CDC guidance is just that, guidance. States and local municipalities (in some cases) will have to choose to adopt that guidance — or not. In Vermont, the governor has not yet commented on the new guidance or if it will be adopted. The state’s regular press conference this week was not held Tuesday, March 1, as it was Town Meeting Day.

But if the new CDC metrics were adopted in Vermont, only nine of Vermont’s 14 counties would be eligible to unmask now. Essex, Lamoille and Windham counties were classified low risk with Chittenden, Franklin, Orleans, Caledonia, Grand Isle and Windsor counties listed as having moderate risk. However, five were considered “high risk,” according to the CDC. Those included: Addison, Bennington, Orange, Rutland and Washington counties.

However, the CDC guidelines also state that “people with symptoms, a positive test, or exposure to someone with Covid-19 should wear a mask.” Additionally, based on individual assessment of risk and/or susceptibility or preference, “people may choose to mask at any time.”

The guidance also does not apply to any federal transportation including public buses, trains, or their stations, airplanes or airports.

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