Coronavirus Update: Some cities and counties re-evaluate mask rules based on weekly CDC data

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Expect to see refreshed information every Thursday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about the COVID-19 risk level in every U.S. county.

The agency said Thursday that 85% of the U.S. counties have low or medium risk levels. The newly defined community levels were announced last week; this week, CDC director Rochelle Walensky said the new community levels can be used by schools to decide masking rules. 

“Those recommendations, if you recall, is to maintain masking if you are in an area that is orange or high-level community COVID-19 level, and that you could remove those masks if you are yellow or green—where, in yellow, if you are high—are at high risk, that you would want to consult your healthcare provider to give you some advice as to whether you would want to continue,” she said during a White House briefing on Wednesday. 

The community levels may change week to week, prompting updates from local health departments and local media outlets. “The CDC’s Community Level for New Hanover County was updated yesterday to High,” tweeted a government handle for the North Carolina county on Friday, telling residents to wear a mask when they are indoors. Pasadena said Thursday that because the city is now at a “low” level, masking is recommended but no longer required. Los Angeles County also removed its indoor mask mandate on Friday, citing the move to a “low” level, according to the Los Angeles Times

Other COVID-19 news to know: 

Two Hong Kong retail chains are rationing some food and medications due to worries over the surge in COVID-19 cases and that a lockdown is coming, according to the Guardian. ParknShop, a supermarket chain, said Friday that it’s limiting purchases of staples, such as rice and toilet paper. The city’s subway operator as well as bus and ferry companies are also cutting back on services, Reuters reports

South Korea continues to report a record number of cases, reporting 266,853 new cases on Thursday. However, government officials pushed back a curfew for restaurants and cafes by one hour to 11 p.m., citing the need to help small businesses, according to the Korea Herald.

A new study found that baricitinib, a rheumatoid arthritis drug developed by Eli Lilly & Co.
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and Incyte Corp.
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reduced the risk of death among patients who have been hospitalized with severe COVID-19. The new research, which was published Thursday in preprint form, meaning it’s not peer-reviewed, came from the U.K.’s Recovery Trial. It compared baricitinib and the standard of care with the standard of care in about 8,000 patients over the course of 2021. Roche Holding AG’s
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arthritis drug tocilizumab has also been found to be an effective tool to reduce mortality risk among some severely ill COVID-19 patients.

The NFL on Thursday scrapped all COVID-19 protocols, meaning players and staff no longer need to wear masks, social distance, or restrict access to team buildings, according to the New York Times. There is no more mandatory testing. However, teams and players are expected to follow local rules, including masking guidance. 

Here’s what the numbers say:

The average daily number of cases in the U.S. fell to 51,599 on Thursday, less than half the total from two weeks ago, while hospitalizations dropped 43% from two weeks ago to 44,188, according to a New York Times tracker. Both cases and hospitalizations are at the lowest levels they’ve been at since late July. After holding steady just below 2,000 earlier this week and late last week, the seven-day average of deaths fell to a two-month low of 1,706.

On a global basis, the total number of deaths is edging closer to another grim milestone. It was 5.98 million as of Friday morning, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University, while the total case count rose to 442.24 million. The U.S. leads the world in total deaths, with 956,262, and in cases, with more than 79 million.—Tomi Kilgore

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