What a medium COVID-19 risk level means: 6 notes

As COVID-19 cases rise nationwide, at least three cities have reentered "medium risk" categories for virus transmission this week.

Six things to know:

1. Most cities and counties use the CDC's community levels of virus activity to determine risk categories. The levels are based on three combined metrics: the amount of local hospital beds in use, hospital admission rates and the total number of new COVID-19 cases.

2. Communities reporting at least 200 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people in the last seven days automatically qualify for the medium risk designation. Communities with fewer than 200 cases per day that are seeing 10 to 19.9 new admissions per 100,000 or 10 to 14.9 percent of beds filled by COVID-19 patients also meet criteria for the medium risk, according to the CDC.

3. In many cases, switching to a higher risk level functions as an alert of rising COVID-19 activity but does not directly trigger action or policy shifts. Each jurisdiction may have different strategies around public health restrictions and when to reimplement them after they enter a new risk category. 

4. New York City became one of the first major cities to transition to the medium risk category on May 2. The change could trigger new public health restrictions in the city, such as mask mandates, though they are not immediately required, according to The New York Times. The city's health recommendations for the medium risk category largely mirror those of the low risk tier, instructing residents to get vaccinated, wear a face mask in indoor public settings where vaccine status is unknown and get tested if you have symptoms. However, the medium risk category also instructs those who are unvaccinated or at high risk of severe COVID-19 to take additional precautions amid rising community spread.  

5. Chicago moved into a medium risk level May 6, which means masks are now "strongly recommended" in indoor spaces, officials with the city's health department said. Similar to the recommendations in New York City, the Chicago health department also recommends staying up to date on vaccinations and testing if symtpoms appear. Chicago has recorded 259 cases per 100,000 people in the last 7 days, exceeding the CDC's 200-case threshold for medium risk levels. Allison Arawady, MD, commissioner of the city's health department, said the shift is "no cause for alarm," and noted hospitalizations and deaths in Chicago remain at or near all-time lows, NBC 5 reports. She said the city would reimpose a mask mandate if the area moved into a high risk level, "which we aren't close to reaching in Chicago right now.

6. Milwaukee on May 6 also entered the medium risk level. "This change to yellow is in response to an increase in case rates from 158 cases per 100,000 people last week to 206 cases per 100,000 this week," Milwaukee County Chief Health Policy Advisor, Ben Weston, MD, said in a virtual update, CBS 58 reports. Seventy-two people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 in the county, double from figures two weeks ago. Health officials said hospitalization numbers remain "fairly low," despite the increase. 


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