A new online tracking system from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention seeks to guide future masking and social distancing policies by classifying COVID infection rates in U.S. counties as low, medium, or high.
In a Friday afternoon news release, the CDC called the COVID-19 Community Levels web page “a new tool to help communities decide what prevention steps to take based on the latest data.”
“Levels can be low, medium, or high and are determined by looking at hospital beds being used, hospital admissions, and the total number of new COVID-19 cases in an area,” the CDC said.
Carlos del Rio, president-elect of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, said Monday that the website could help county health officials “prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed.”
“I think it could be a useful tool for communities to plan,” said the infectious diseases professor at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta.
But the doctor, who helped oversee federal vaccine testing, warned that the new CDC map could also be underreporting community spread.
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New COVID cases are averaging 100,000 a day — six times higher than last year — and Dr. del Rio says the failure to report at-home testing results could mean there are actually 800,000 new cases a day.
Monday’s CDC tracker map showed only 7.48% of U.S. counties with “high infections,” compared to 69.7% of the country with “low” community transmission levels.
“Yet we all know that there is a wave happening at the moment and many are getting infected,” Dr. del Rio said.
The CDC did not respond to a request for comment.
As the COVID-19 virus has become more transmissible and harder to detect, health officials say the chances of hospitalization and death have decreased thanks to higher vaccination rates.
Jenin Younes, an attorney at the New Civil Liberties Alliance law firm who has litigated against vaccine mandates and school quarantines, said the CDC’s new tracker could spark legal challenges if public officials use it to reimpose health restrictions.
“As we’ve seen over the past two years, these disruptions have severe negative effects on children’s education, people’s ability to earn a living, and everyone’s mental health,” Ms. Younes said. “And for the majority of people, COVID now presents a risk akin to that of cold and flu.”
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