(NEXSTAR) – In most parts of the country, you are no longer required to wear a mask in public. Even more states and counties have announced plans to lift mask mandates in the next week. But even where you’re not required to wear a mask, should you?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends wearing a mask in public indoor settings in any county that has “high” or “substantial” COVID-19 spread. That covers 99.5% of U.S. counties.
Only 13 counties are shown as having “moderate” or “low” levels of community transmission on the CDC’s map as of Wednesday. In those counties, the CDC recommends unvaccinated people continue masking when out in public, but says vaccinated people can be less cautious.
The two counties with “moderate” COVID transmission, according to the CDC, are both in Texas:
- Jeff Davis County
- Concho County
There are 11 counties shown with “low” community transmission:
- Arthur County, Nebraska
- Blaine County, Nebraska
- Harmon County, Oklahoma
- Hayes County, Nebraska
- Hooker County, Nebraska
- Jones County, South Dakota
- Loup County, Nebraska
- Petroleum County, Montana
- Rock County, Nebraska
- Thomas County, Nebraska
- Wheeler County, Oregon
In the other 3,200 or so U.S. counties, the CDC still recommends wearing a mask anytime you’re in public and indoors until the spread of the virus drops to safer levels.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky told Reuters Tuesday that “now is not the moment” to drop mask mandates.
“We have and continue to recommend masking in areas of high and substantial transmission — that is essentially everywhere in the country in public indoor settings,” Walensky said.
To qualify for the agency’s “moderate” category, there need to be fewer than 50 new COVID cases a week per 100,000 residents and the test positivity rate has to be under 8%. (The test positivity rate is the percentage of people who get a COVID test and turn back a positive result.)
These CDC recommendations are just that: recommendations. They don’t have legal binding in this case, so counties and states are still allowed to set looser mask guidelines. The only places where the federal government has mandated masks are on public transit, airplanes, in transit hubs (like airports) and in federal buildings.