CDC says 7 Mass. counties now have ‘high’ COVID-19 levels, recommends mask-wearing

Seven Massachusetts counties now have “high” community levels of COVID-19 and people in those areas should wear masks in indoor public spaces, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

The counties are Berkshire, Franklin, Worcester, Middlesex, Suffolk, Norfolk, and Barnstable, according to the CDC’s website, which rates virus levels in US counties as “a tool to help communities decide what prevention steps to take.”

Hampshire, Hampden, Essex, Plymouth, Dukes, and Nantucket counties are ranked as having “medium” levels. The only county still at “low” levels is Bristol.

The CDC determines community COVID-19 levels by looking at hospital beds being used, hospital admissions, and the total number of new COVID-19 cases in an area, according to the CDC website.

It recommends that people take greater precautions the higher the level. Masking in indoor public spaces, regardless of vaccination status, is only recommended by CDC when communities reach the “high” level, though the agency notes that people can wear masks at any level based on their personal preference.

COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Massachusetts have been rising gradually after a precipitous fall from the early days of this year, when the Omicron variant drove a deadly surge. Experts have been concerned about the arrival of the Omicron subvariants BA.2 and BA.2.12.1.

But at the same time, restrictions have been dropped, and people in the state have jumped at the chance to try to get back to normal after more than two years of disruption by the virus. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, offered encouragement recently, saying the country is “out of the full-blown, explosive pandemic phase.”

The Globe reported Friday that some experts endorsed the choice to go maskless most of the time while others advocated masking in crowded public places.

The Boston Public Health Commission noted Friday in a tweet that Suffolk County, which includes Boston, Chelsea, Revere, and Winthrop, had moved into the “high” category and said, “We strongly recommend all residents wear masks in public indoor spaces, including public transportation, test for COVID-19, and stay up to date on vaccinations.”

It also recommended getting tested before Mother’s Day gatherings on Sunday.

Jonathan Levy, who chairs the department of environmental health at Boston University’s School of Public Health, noted the new CDC ratings in a tweet but suggested he didn’t expect any action to be taken on them.

Martin Finucane can be reached at Amanda Kaufman can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @amandakauf1.

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