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What’s Your COVID-19 Community Level?

New CDC guidelines don’t affect mask-wearing requirements in health care settings

February 28, 2022

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released new guidance to help determine when you should consider wearing a mask in your local community.

The new recommendations evaluate COVID-19 at the county level to help determine the strain on local health care systems and the severity of disease. About 22 percent of Pennsylvania counties remain at the “high” level of COVID-19 under the CDC’s new guidance. In those counties, everyone should wear a well-fitting mask indoors in public, regardless of vaccination status or individual risk, the CDC said.

“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, CDC director.

The new guidance doesn’t affect requirements for patients, visitors, and others in health care settings. Local public health agencies, such as the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, may also have regulations related to when you should wear a mask indoors, officials noted.

The CDC’s guidelines separate recommendations for indoor mask-wearing into three tiers:

  • Low:  Wear a mask based on your personal preference, informed by your personal level of risk
  • Medium:  If you are immunocompromised or at high risk for severe illness, talk to your health care provider about wearing masks or respirators indoors in public
    • If you live with or have social contact with someone at high risk for severe illness, consider testing yourself for infection before you get together and wearing a mask when indoors with them
  • High:  Wear a well-fitting mask indoors in public, regardless of vaccination status or individual risk. If you are immunocompromised or at high risk, wear a mask or respirator that provides you with greater protection


Map of Pennsylvania counties showing COVID-19 levels


The agency notes that people with symptoms, a positive test, or exposure to someone with COVID-19 should wear a mask. At every level, it's important to stay up to date on the COVID-19 vaccines and get tested if you develop symptoms.

The tiers are based on new COVID-19 admissions per 100,000 population during the past seven days; the percentage of staffed inpatient beds occupied by COVID-19 patients; and new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 population during the past seven days.

“None of us know what the future may hold for us and for this virus and we need to be prepared and we need to be ready for whatever comes next,” Dr. Walensky said. “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.”

CDC officials stressed that some people may feel more comfortable or need to wear a mask regardless of the level of local community transmission.

“Please remember that there are people who remain at higher risk for COVID 19 and who may need additional protection: Those who are immunocompromised or have underlying health conditions, those who have disabilities, or those who live with people who are at risk,” Dr. Walensky said.

HAP will continue to monitor COVID-19 public health developments and provide updates to members and the general public.

The CDC’s new guidance and county-view of community levels are available online.