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Portland area at 'high' COVID level; CDC recommends masking indoors

Two-thirds of Oregon counties are now at the "high" COVID-19 Community Level, which is the point at which the CDC recommends universal indoor masking.
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PORTLAND, Ore. — Two-thirds of Oregon counties – including Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas – are now in the “high” level of community transmission, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which means they’ve reached a point where the agency recommends universal masking.

The “COVID-19 Community Level” is an updated county-level measuring system that the CDC deployed earlier this year, ranking each county as low, medium or high based on a combination of local hospitalization rates and new COVID cases rather than the infection rate alone.

In high-level counties, the CDC recommends that everyone wear masks in indoor public places and on public transportation regardless of their vaccination status, although it’s not a mandate. People at higher risk of infection are also urged to consider avoiding non-essential public activities.

RELATED: CDC recommends 15 Washington counties should wear masks again

In addition to the three Portland metro counties, the high-level counties in Oregon are Clatsop, Tillamook, Lincoln, Lane, Douglas, Josephine, Jackson, Klamath, Lake, Deschutes, Crook, Jefferson, Hood River, Wasco, Sherman, Morrow, Umatilla, Union, Wallowa, Baker and Malheur.

The Oregon Health Authority tweeted a screenshot of the CDC Community Levels map and the recommendation to wear masks indoors last week. The CDC’s county-level map was last updated June 30, based on data from the preceding week.

The remaining dozen Oregon counties – Columbia, Marion, Linn, Polk, Benton, Yamhill, Coos, Curry, Gilliam, Wheeler, Grant and Harney – are all in the “medium” category, which according to the CDC means only high-risk people need to consider wearing masks.

The news comes as Oregon faces rising hospitalizations and a sustained high level of new COVID cases statewide, according to the Oregon Health Authority’s data dashboard.

The state’s seven-day rolling average for new daily cases climbed steadily in April and has been fluctuating in a range of about 1,400 to 1,900 cases per day since the middle of May. 

RELATED: Forecast delayed, but Oregon COVID-19 activity expected to keep growing in July

Statewide hospitalizations rose from about 100 in mid-April to about 300 in late May. After holding at roughly that level for a few weeks, hospitalizations began to climb again in late June and have now topped 400.

The latest wave has been sustained by newer versions of the omicron variant, initially BA.2 and BA.2.12.1, and more recently BA.4 and BA.5. The arrival of the latter two variants prompted Dr. Peter Graven to delay the latest statewide COVID forecast from Oregon Health and Science University last week, in order to take more time to calculate their impact. But he told KGW that he expects COVID to keep spreading through July.

Washington State is facing a similar slide into high community level territory, with the latest CDC data showing 15 of the state’s counties with a high rating. Another 17 are in the medium category, including Clark County, with seven counties in the low category.

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