Most Of Mass. Now Meets CDC Threshold For Mask Wearing Regardless Of Vaccination Status

The transmission rate of COVID-19 is now considered to be "high" or "substantial" in more than half of the state's 14 counties with residents of and visitors to Barnstable and Nantucket counties considered to be the most at risk, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Nine counties now fall under the CDC's updated guidance recommending that masks be worn by vaccinated individuals in indoor public settings in areas of high or substantial transmission. That total is up from five counties when the new recommendations were issued last week.

While Cape Cod and Nantucket are the only areas of "high" transmission, Middlesex, Essex, Plymouth, Worcester, Bristol, Hampden and Suffolk counties are all in the "substantial" transmission category, according to data collected from July 26 to Aug. 1.

The categorization of counties by the CDC was used in the development of the federal government's latest guidance on mask-wearing.

Martha's Vineyard, or Dukes County, fell under the CDC's new guidance last week, but it has since dropped to "moderate" status. Franklin County is the only region of the state rated "low" for transmission, as the delta variant continues to fuel the spread of COVID-19 around the county.

The CDC reports that nearly 61% of counties in the United States are experiencing "high" transmission and another 19% of counties fall in the range of "substantial" transmission.

Gov. Charlie Baker on Friday updated the state's mask guidance to recommend that anyone vaccinated with an underlying health condition or who lives with an unvaccinated or high-risk adult wear a mask when indoors in public. The governor, however, said he thought it would be too confusing to ask residents to keep track of whether they live, work, shop or socialize in counties where transmission status can change from day to day.

On Monday, Baker said the state is "likely" to continue programs that help hard-hit communities access COVID-19 testing and vaccines for the foreseeable future.

Asked if he planned to keep the state-run "Stop the Spread" free testing sites open past their current end date of Sept. 30, Baker replied that decisions about vaccines and tests will be "driven to some extent by the facts on the ground."

"I think you're likely to see us continue to operate in a pretty significant way both the vaccine programming and the testing programming for as long as we need to to successfully provide the access to those services that people around the commonwealth need," Baker said.

The administration first launched the Stop the Spread sites in July 2020. By May of this year, the program had 35 locations and had conducted more than 2.3 million COVID-19 tests.

The statewide seven-day average of newly confirmed COVID-19 cases per day stood at 466.7 on Thursday, the most recent day for which Department of Public Health data was available. That figure is more than seven times as high as the record low of 64.1 average new cases per day observed on June 25, though it remains far below the Jan. 8 peak of 6,234.

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