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Breaking Down the CDC’s New COVID-19 Community Level Tool

Breaking Down the CDC’s New COVID-19 Community Level Tool

With SMH Infectious Disease Specialist Manuel Gordillo, MD

** NOTE: This content was published Mar. 1, 2022. Information related to the COVID-19, vaccines and treatments is continually evolving. For the most up to date info, we recommend visiting the CDC’s website and the FDA website.

What if checking the COVID threat in your community was as easy as checking the weather? As the COVID-19 pandemic marches on, healthcare providers and public health professionals continue devising new ways to get important information to everyday people in ways that are easily understood and digestible.

To help, the Centers for Disease Control has introduced a three-tiered color-coded system designed to give people guidance on what precautions to take as they go about their daily lives. If the system indicates a high level of community spread, more precautions are recommended.

“It goes beyond masks,” says Dr. Gordillo, who took the time to break down this latest guidance for Healthe-Matters. “It's more like a layered mitigation approach.”

Color Me Curious

The new COVID-19 Community Level tool from the CDC breaks down community spread into three basic categories, with differing recommendations for each. And by color-coding them, the idea is that anyone can easily prepare for their day with a quick glance at the COVID-19 Community Level color of the day.

COVID guidelines
(click on image for enlargement)

If the level of community spread in your area is Low, then staying up-to-date on your vaccines (this includes booster shots!) is likely enough to provide protection. Mask-wearing is an individual choice, informed by personal level of risk. Those with symptoms should still get tested, however.

If the level of community spread in your area is Medium, staying up-to-date on your vaccines is still important, but might not be enough. Those who are at high risk for severe illness should speak to their healthcare provider about wearing a mask or taking other precautions against COVID. And if you live with or have social contact with someone at high risk for severe illness from COVID, testing before getting together and wearing a mask indoors should be considered. Anyone with symptoms should get tested.

And if the level of community spread in your area is High, the CDC recommends wearing a well-fitting mask when indoors in public, regardless of vaccination status or individual risk. Those who are immunocompromised or at high risk for severe illness should consider a respirator or N95-type filtering mask. If you’re not vaccinated at this point, schedule your vaccination immediately.

Ideally, being able to recognize the current level of risk in an area can allow communities to be flexible and responsive to the changing nature of a pandemic.

“So if you see things are calm in your community and cases are down, enjoy your time without wearing a mask,” says Dr. Gordillo. “Then, when cases are starting to go up, you take out your mask.”

“The umbrella analogy is perfect,” he continues. “When it’s raining, everybody gets their umbrella.”

What Makes a Super Model?

The previous system had four colors. This one has three. What’s changed and why does it matter?

“The most important thing is that the CDC has modified the metrics—what they use to assign these colors to a community,” says Dr. Gordillo. “There's a lot of mathematical modeling that goes on, but basically they came up with three metrics that will predict when a community is going to be in a bad situation.”

The first metric that the new model takes into account is the number of cases occurring in the community.

The second metric that the model takes into account is the number of new patients admitted to the hospital with COVID.

The third metric is the percentage of hospital beds occupied by COVID patients.

While the first metric reflects the sheer amount of COVID cases in the area, the second and third metrics add nuance to that data, by showing how those COVID cases are or are not stressing the local healthcare system. Using all three metrics, experts can triangulate an approximate level of community threat.

This is all a step in the right direction, according to Dr. Gordillo.

“The CDC recommendations are very sensible,” he says. “We need to use metrics that are not going to be depending on the weather or our political inclination. We need something that everybody can look at and become familiar with and use as a bellwether on deciding what to do.”

More Resources

To read more about the CDC’s latest recommendations and search for your COVID-19 Community Level, click here.

To read more from the CDC about proper mask use and care, click here.

Posted: Mar 1, 2022,
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