CDC calls for masks in 36 New York counties with high Covid levels (updated list)

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is calling for masks in 36 New York state counties, all in the Upstate New York area, due to high Covid-19 levels.

The CDC Thursday updated its Covid Community Levels map to include areas where Covid is at “high” (orange), “medium” (yellow) or “low” (green) risk. More than 87% of the US is still in the green, but 79 rural counties are at high risk, up from 40 two weeks ago, and nearly half of them are in the Empire State:

  • Province of Albany
  • 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
  • Province of Schenectady
  • 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 featured Montgomery County in lists of both high and medium Covid levels. Montgomery is currently in yellow (medium); A total of 36 provinces are 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 — went to average Covid levels this week. However, Columbia County and Essex County have risen to high Covid levels.

In comparison, four weeks ago, only three New York counties were considered high risk: Onondaga, Oswego and Cayuga counties. The list grew to 23 two weeks ago as the cases spread from central New York; areas with high Covid levels now include counties in the nearby states of Pennsylvania, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut and Massachusetts.

Currently, 22 NYS counties are at moderate 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 required, 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 – which focus more on preventing hospitals from being overwhelmed and less on positive tests, which peaked during the December and January ommicron wave.

Masks are not recommended indoors, including in schools, in medium or low-level community areas, although immunocompromised people and others at high risk for serious illness may want to wear face coverings indoors and avoid large crowds.

The level of the covid community was so low in early March that masks were not recommended in any New York state province, but cases and hospitalizations increased in Syracuse and the surrounding area due to the rise of highly contagious BA. 2 variants, at the end of widespread masking and vaccine withdrawal. The state health department said CNY was the first in the US 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 begun to decline in the Syracuse area, but hospitalizations are a bigger factor than positive tests in recommending masks under the new CDC guidelines. According to County Executive Ryan McMahon, central New York residents hospitalized with Covid-19 have tripled from 41 in mid-March to 126 this week; 18 Onondaga County residents have also died in the past two weeks, compared to just six deaths in the first 20 days of April.

Hospital admissions and deaths usually decrease as cases decrease, but they can take weeks to show up.

The CDC updates its community level map every Thursday. The map provides recommendations for wearing masks, but does not specify where face coverings are required.

Masks are still mandatory in New York State for healthcare facilities, nursing homes, courts, correctional facilities, homeless shelters, public transportation, and taxis and ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft. Children also have to wear them to schools in some cases, for example after being exposed to someone with Covid for 10 days.

The CDC also says anyone with Covid-19 symptoms or who tests positive should wear masks, regardless of vaccination status or level of risk where they live.

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