Five of Utah’s 29 counties are now at a high community level of COVID-19 where everyone should be wearing masks indoors and avoiding nonessential activities if they’re at high risk of becoming severely ill from the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Salt Lake, Summit, Tooele, Grand and San Juan counties all moved up to the CDC’s highest level on the latest national map that measures case counts as well as hospital admissions and capacity by county, following the Utah Department of Health’s weekly COVID-19 update Thursday.
The rest of Utah’s counties are split between community levels, with Davis, Wasatch, Duchesne, Uintah, Carbon, Emery, Piute, Garfield, Kane and Washington all at medium, where the CDC says those vulnerable to severe illness — and anyone spending time with them — should consider masking up.
The increased impact of the virus in Utah comes as the latest wave of COVID-19, driven by new mutations of the omicron variant that fueled record-breaking case counts at the start of the year, moves westward. Just over 10% of the nation’s counties are now at the high community level.
The CDC eased the metrics to reach a high level for the virus after the initial omicron surge, doubling the case counts needed before masking is recommended and adding the hospital metrics. Under the federal agency’s old system for measuring COVID-19, nearly all of Utah — and 80% of the country — is at a high level of transmission.
The Salt Lake County Health Department tweeted a warning Thursday to residents about hitting the high community level.
“Bad news, fam — Salt Lake County is back to HIGH level of COVID in our community. The CDC advises communities in HIGH to wear a mask indoors in public, stay up to date on vaccines, and get tested if you have symptoms,” the tweet said.
The CDC guidelines spell out that when COVID-19 reaches the high community level, people should “wear a well-fitting mask indoors in public, regardless of vaccination status (including in K-12 schools and other indoor community settings)” as well as suggesting additional steps for anyone seen at an increased risk.
Besides considering avoiding nonessential indoor public activities where exposure to the virus is possible, those vulnerable to getting seriously ill from COVID-19 should be talking with their health care providers about testing and treatments, the CDC says.
That group includes the immunocompromised as well as people who are older or who have certain medical conditions, including cancer, chronic kidney, liver or lung disease, diabetes, heart conditions, mental health issues, obesity, disabilities and pregnancy.
Everyone, regardless of their current community level of the virus is advised by the CDC to stay up to date on their COVID-19 vaccinations and booster shots. Federal approval of the vaccine for children as young as 6 months old is anticipated shortly and scaled-down doses could be available in Utah as soon as next week.