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How to use COVID-19 community levels

A group of friends shares a meal at an outdoor restaurant table.

We've come a long way in the fight against COVID-19. Vaccines and treatments help many people avoid serious illness. The way we work to stop the spread of the virus has changed too.

You might be concerned about your risk—and unsure what steps to take to protect yourself and the people around you. And you might wonder how COVID-19 is affecting your community now.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a new online community levels tool to help you find answers. Checking your community level can help you know what is happening in your area.

What are community levels?

Community levels are a way to measure how COVID-19 is affecting people and healthcare systems in each U.S. county. You can use that information to help decide what precautions to take.

For example, maybe you don't wear a mask right now in public indoor spaces. But you might follow CDC's recommendation to do that when the risk in your area is higher. That can help you stay safe. And it can protect people around you who are at higher risk of getting very sick with COVID-19.

Every community in the U.S. is ranked at one of three levels: low, medium or high. CDC updates the levels on a regular basis. The levels are determined by a combination of these three things:

  • How many hospital beds are filled with COVID-19 patients.
  • New hospital admissions in the last week.
  • How many new COVID-19 cases the county has had in the last week.

Here is what the levels mean:

1. Low. There is limited impact on healthcare systems and low levels of severe illness.

2. Medium. There are some impacts on the healthcare system, and there are more people with severe illness.

3. High. There is a high potential to strain the healthcare system. And there are high levels of severe illness in your county.

What to do based on your community level

Regardless of the COVID-19 level in your community, it's important to be up-to-date on vaccines and booster shots. And get tested right away if you have symptoms.

Here are some other steps CDC says you can take based on your county's current risk level:

Low level:

  • Maintain ventilation throughout indoor spaces. For example, open windows.
  • If you are at high risk for severe COVID-19 illness, have a plan for rapid testing, such as having a rapid test kit at home. People at high risk include older adults, those with a weakened immune system and those with certain medical conditions.

Medium level:

  • If you are at high risk, ask your doctor if you should mask up in public indoor spaces.
  • If one of your loved ones is at high risk for COVID-19, consider taking a self-test before you visit them. Also, consider wearing a mask around them indoors.

High level:

  • Wear a mask in public indoor spaces.
  • Consider avoiding nonessential indoor public activities that might expose you to the virus.
  • If you are at high risk, ask your doctor if you should take other precautions.
  • Have a way to get a rapid test, if needed, such as a home test kit.

A few things to keep in mind when using CDC's community levels tool:

  • You can still choose to mask up even if the COVID-19 level is low in your area. (You should also wear a mask if you have COVID-19 symptoms, if you test positive or if you've been exposed to the virus).
  • CDC's community level recommendations do not apply to healthcare settings, like hospitals and nursing homes. You will need to follow their guidelines when visiting those places.

Learn more about what's happening with COVID-19

Check out our Coronavirus health topic center.

Reviewed 7/6/2022

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