The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is calling for masks in 36 counties in New York state, all located in the Upstate New York region, due to high Covid-19 levels.
The CDC updated its Covid Community Levels map on Thursday showing areas where Covid is at a “high” (orange), “medium” (yellow) or “low” (green) risk. More than 87% of the U.S. is still in the green but 79 counties nationwide are at a high risk, up from 40 two weeks ago, and nearly half of them are in the Empire State:
- Albany County
- Broome County
- Cayuga County
- Chemung County
- Clinton County
- Columbia County
- Cortland County
- Erie County
- Essex County
- Franklin County
- Genesee County
- Herkimer County
- Jefferson County
- Lewis County
- Livingston County
- Madison County
- Monroe County
- Niagara County
- Oneida County
- Onondaga County
- Ontario County
- Orleans County
- Oswego County
- Rensselaer County
- Saratoga County
- Schenectady County
- Seneca County
- St. Lawrence County
- Steuben County
- Tioga County
- Tompkins County
- Warren County
- Washington County
- Wayne County
- Wyoming County
- Yates County
Note: An earlier version of this story included Montgomery County in lists of both high and medium Covid levels. Montgomery is currently in yellow (medium); 36 total counties are in orange (high levels), not 37.
Thirty-seven New York state counties were considered high-risk last week, but three of those — Hamilton, Montgomery and Schuyler counties — moved down to medium Covid levels this week. Columbia County and Essex County, however, moved up to high Covid levels.
By comparison, only three counties in New York were considered high risk four weeks ago: Onondaga, Oswego and Cayuga counties. The list grew to 23 two weeks ago as cases spread from Central New York; areas with high Covid levels now include counties in nearby states Pennsylvania, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut and Massachusetts.
Currently 22 NYS counties are at medium risk (up from 12 last week) including Cattaraugus County, Chenango County, Delaware County, Dutchess County, Fulton County, Greene County, Hamilton County, Kings County, Montgomery County, Nassau County, New York County, Otsego County, Putnam County, Queens County, Richmond County, Rockland County, Schoharie County, Schuyler County, Suffolk County, Sullivan County, Ulster County, and Westchester County.
Only four counties are still at low risk: Allegany County, Bronx County, Chautauqua County, and Orange County.
Masks are recommended, not mandated, indoors in areas with high Covid community levels under new CDC guidelines released in February. Masking recommendations are now based on three factors — Covid hospitalizations, hospital capacity and new Covid cases — focusing more on preventing hospitals from getting overwhelmed and less on positive tests, which spiked during the omicron wave in December and January.
Masks are not recommended indoors, including in schools, in areas with medium or low community levels, though immunocompromised people and others at high risk for severe illness may still want to wear face coverings indoors and avoid large crowds.
Covid community levels were low enough at the beginning of March that masks weren’t recommended in any New York state county, but cases and hospitalizations increased in Syracuse and the surrounding area due to the rise of highly contagious BA.2 variants, the end of widespread mask-wearing, and the waning of vaccines. The state health department said CNY was the first in the U.S. to see “significant community spread” of more contagious omicron strains BA.2.12 and the related BA.2.12.1, which have spread rapidly.
Covid cases have started declining in the Syracuse area, but hospitalizations are a bigger factor than positive tests in recommending masks under the new CDC guidelines. Central New York residents hospitalized with Covid-19 have tripled from 41 in mid-March to 126 this week, according to County Executive Ryan McMahon; 18 Onondaga County residents have also died over the past two weeks, compared to just six deaths in the first 20 days of April.
Hospitalizations and deaths tend to go down as cases go down, but may take weeks to start showing.
The CDC updates its Community Levels map every Thursday. The map provides recommendations for mask-wearing, but does not indicate where face coverings are mandated.
Masks are still required in New York state for health care facilities, nursing homes, courts, correctional facilities, homeless shelters, public transportation, and taxis and ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft. Kids also have to wear them in schools in some instances, such as after being exposed to someone with Covid for 10 days.
The CDC also says anyone with Covid-19 symptoms or who test positive should wear masks, regardless of vaccination status or the risk level where they live.
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