Good news for many from the CDC on Friday: Most Americans live in places where healthy people, including students in schools, can safely take a break from wearing masks.
The bad news? Crook, Deschutes, and Jefferson counties aren’t among those places even if state mandates allowed for ditching the masks.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention outlined the new set of measures for communities where COVID-19 is easing its grip, with less of a focus on positive test results and more on what’s happening at hospitals.
The new system greatly changes the look of the CDC’s risk map and puts more than 70% of the U.S. population in counties where the coronavirus is posing a low or medium threat to hospitals.
Those are the people who can stop wearing masks, the agency said.
The agency is still advising that people, including school children, wear masks where the risk of COVID-19 is high.
That’s the situation in about 37% of U.S. counties, where about 28% of Americans reside.
Central Oregon and nearly all of south-central Oregon are among those counties, according to the CDC, despite five straight weeks of declining cases locally.
St. Charles on Friday reported it had 39 COVID patients – that’s down from 51 patients one week ago.
Deschutes County Public Health Public Information Officer Erik Breon said Deschutes County’s case rate over the past 7 days is 231.67 cases per 100,000 people.
And the 7-day average proportion of staffed inpatient beds occupied by COVID-19 patients in Deschutes County is 13.2%.
“Based on the chart below, this number is high enough to classify Deschutes County as ‘High’ (≥ 10%),” he said in an email to Central Oregon Daily News. “Deschutes County has a 7-day total of 2.7 new COVID-19 hospital admission per 100k population, a number smaller than the threshold for ‘high’ in the chart below; however, only one of the two indicators needs to be met in order to classify the county as ‘high’ COVID-19 community level.”
And even if the situation improves in the coming days, it appears Friday’s CDC announcement won’t have much impact in Oregon.
Just yesterday the state announced its mask mandate would remain in effect until March 19th.
Rudy Owens, a Public Affairs Specialist with the Oregon Health Authority, told Central Oregon Daily News the agency is reviewing the latest guidance from the CDC and understand many Oregonians will have questions.
“Based on declining COVID-19 hospitalizations, Oregon will lift indoor masking and school masking requirements on March 19,” he said. “Public health physicians at OHA still strongly recommend that people in high-risk groups – unvaccinated; immunocompromised; with underlying health conditions; 65 or older; or those who live with someone in one of those groups – continue wearing masks in indoor public settings and schools even after the restrictions are lifted.”
The new recommendations do not change the requirement to wear masks on public transportation and indoors in airports, train stations and bus stations.
The CDC guidelines for other indoor spaces aren’t binding, meaning cities and institutions even in areas of low risk may set their own rules.
And the agency says people with COVID-19 symptoms or who test positive shouldn’t stop wearing masks.
“Anybody is certainly welcome to wear a mask at any time if they feel safer wearing a mask,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a news briefing. “We want to make sure our hospitals are OK and people are not coming in with severe disease. … Anyone can go to the CDC website, find out the volume of disease in their community and make that decision.”
Download interactive COVID risk map via the QR code below: