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CDC says mask can come off as COVID impacts ease

The good news is you can take it off, if you’ve had your shots.

Most of Central Virginia has low COVID-19 levels in the community, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and that means guidelines recommending people wear face masks in most public places are being lifted.

The CDC guidance, which uses a matrix of measurements including hospitalizations, strain on the health care system and number of cases in a community, means that “people may choose to mask at any time. People with symptoms, a positive test, or exposure to someone with COVID-19 should wear a mask.”

Many businesses, governmental agencies and public facilities implement the CDC recommendations as requirements for patrons.

All of Central Virginia, including Charlottesville and Albemarle, Buckingham, Fluvanna, Greene, Louisa, Nelson and Orange counties are rated as “low” in community COVID-19 prevalence.

Madison County was rated as “medium” for which the CDC suggests masking in public places, especially for those unvaccinated, with symptoms, a positive test or exposure to someone with COVID-19.

Dr. Reid Adams, University of Virginia Medical Center’s chief medical officer, said Friday that the hospital had 26 COVID-19 patients as of Friday morning with 18 acute cases and seven people in intensive care. One patient with COVID-19 is a child.

“This is a new measure that includes not only case rates but the impact on hospitals and hospital admissions,” said Dr. Costi Sifri, director of hospital epidemiology at UVA Health. “The first two weeks of the measure we were at a high level. Last week we were at a medium level and now we’re at a low level.”

Sifri made his comments at a weekly virtual press conference held by UVa Health.

Sifri said people should feel free to doff their masks in public places provided that they are vaccinated and boosted.

Although the CDC is giving the green light to show faces and cases continue to drop, some health officials are beginning to worry about a variant of the omicron variant known as BA.2 that is currently ravaging Hong Kong and some areas internationally.

Officials say they do not expect the variant to create an issue locally or nationwide, at least not at this time.

“BA.2 is something that needs to be watched closely,” Sifri said. “At least in the near term, it’s unlikely that it will be create [a surge]. Whether it can occur later, it’s always possible.”

Sifri said the high number of Americans and Central Virginians vaccinated and boosted, and the large number of omicron-caused COVID cases this winter, has given the population a high level of immunity.

“Omicron really moved through some areas and there are indications that if you had [the original omicron variant] BA.1, you have what amounts to cross-protection against BA.2,” Sifri said. “We will likely see some cases but there are significant levels of immunity for it to overcome.”

Sifri said it’s too early to say exactly where the community will be at the next CDC checkup or if masks will be back in the dress code soon.

“We may be seeing some changing community rates. We’re in a down-trending trajectory now but whether it is going level off or creep back up or down or stay at the current level is hard to say.”


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