(NEXSTAR) – This variant of COVID-19 is so widespread, and reinfections are growing so common, it can feel like nowhere is safe. There are at least a few pockets of California that are safer, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Only four California counties meet the criteria to rank as “low” on the CDC’s tracker of community COVID levels. All four are on the state’s border with Nevada: Sierra, Nevada, Alpine and Mono counties.
The CDC determines a county’s community level by looking at the number of new COVID-19 hospitalizations and the proportion of hospital beds occupied by COVID patients. The map doesn’t take into consideration mild COVID cases that get treated at home – of which we are seeing many right now.
The map shows a majority of California’s most populated counties in the “high” category. That includes all of the nine Bay Area counties; Sacramento; Los Angeles and Orange counties; San Diego County; plus nearly the entire Central Valley.
When a county is in the “high” category for community levels, the CDC recommends wearing a mask indoors. People at high risk of severe illness may need to take additional precautions to avoid catching the virus, the CDC says.
However, even in those “high” COVID level counties, there are no indoor mask mandates in place across California. Alameda County reinstated its indoor mask mandate earlier this summer, but lifted it in late June.
Some counties are still in the “medium” category, including Santa Cruz, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, San Bernardino, Riverside and a few more northern California counties.
Counties may get moved up or down a risk category on Thursday when the CDC updates its data. It’s hard to know whether we’re past the peak of the BA.5-driven COVID surge, as cases go drastically underreported. According to a model by an infectious disease expert at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health, this current wave of COVID cases is expected to peak nationally some time in August, then decline.
The BA.5 subvariant of COVID-19 currently makes up about 85% of U.S. cases, according to CDC data.