COVID-19 masks still recommended in most of Northeast Florida
A major shift in COVID-19 policy announced Friday freed much of the country of wearing masks indoors. But not most of Northeast Florida.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said people don't need masks if transmission of the coronavirus is controlled and hospitals are not strained. Areas ranked at low or medium risk are free to forgo their masks indoors. Masks are still recommended indoors for people in areas rated high risk.
According to the CDC's community level website, updated Friday, Duval, St. Johns, Clay, Nassau and Baker counties all are rated as high risk. Putnam and Flagler counties are listed as medium.
Under the new guidance, nearly 70% of the U.S. population lives in areas considered to be low or medium risk, the CDC said. About 38% of U.S. counties are in the new high-risk category, where mask wearing is recommended, but they account for only 28% of the population.
Much of Florida's Gulf Coast remains in the high-risk category. The majority of the state's East Coast, south of Northeast Florida, is rated medium risk.
One reason for the high risk in Northeast Florida could be the reluctance of people to get vaccinated. Duval County, for example, has long lagged the rest of the state in percentage of people vaccinated.
The move to ease masking guidance nationally, federal officials say, reflects current conditions at this phase of the pandemic, including widespread immunity through vaccination and prior infection as well as better access to testing and treatments.
"We want to give people a break from things like mask-wearing," CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said at a press briefing Friday, adding that new risk guidelines that the agency is implementing will help people know when to reach for masks again if conditions warrant.
Health officials emphasized that people should still wear masks if they wish or if they are personally at high risk. And regardless of local conditions, they should mask if they have COVID-19 symptoms, a positive test or have been exposed to someone with COVID-19.
Information from NPR writers Pien Huang and Carmel Wroth was used in this report.