CDC: Many more can ditch masks, for now

The agency is now only advising universal masking in regions where community COVID level is high

Kenai Peninsula residents who are not at high risk for severe COVID-related illness can ditch masks in public settings, according to new guidance announced Friday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC now uses several different metrics — such as hospital beds occupied, hospital admissions and the total number of new COVID-19 cases in an area — to determine a “COVID-19 community level.” In its Friday guidelines, the CDC described community levels as being a “new tool” to help decide COVID prevention steps.

The CDC advises masks in counties where the COVID community level is “high.” The peninsula’s COVID-19 community level was considered to be “medium” as of Saturday.

At medium risk level, the CDC recommends that individuals at high risk for severe illness talk to their health care provider about whether they need to wear a mask and take other precautions. Places with low, medium and high community levels are encouraged to stay up to date with COVID-19 vaccines; residents should get tested if symptoms develop.

As reported by the Associated Press, the new map puts more than 70% of the population of the United States in places where COVID-19 poses a low or medium risk. Mask requirements put on public transportation and in airports, train stations and bus stations remain in place, as are mandates implemented by municipalities and institutions, the AP reported.

According to the CDC’s “COVID-19 Community Levels by County” map, only one region of Alaska — the Ketchikan Gateway Borough — had a high COVID community level. Most regions had a medium community level with some at low community level.

Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink took to Twitter to celebrate the new guidelines and said DHSS is currently reviewing the new guidelines and will have more information for the public soon.

“2022 is a very different place when it come to COVID-19 than where we were in 2021 or 2020,” Zink tweeted Friday. “It is great to see @CDCgov change their guidance as this pandemic involves many more people have protection from severe disease either from vaccination or past infection.”

The updated guidance came as the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services announced 854 new COVID-19 cases that were reported in the state from Wednesday to Thursday. The new cases include 64 resident cases reported in Soldotna, 34 resident cases reported in Kenai, 22 reported in Homer, eight in Seward, eight in Sterling, five in two Kenai Peninsula Borough North communities, five in two Kenai Peninsula Borough South communities and three in Nikiski. An additional nonresident case was also reported in Seward.

As of Friday, 64.5% of Alaskans age 5 and older had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. That is compared to 59.1% of Alaskans age 5 and older who have been fully vaccinated.

The Kenai Peninsula continues to lag behind other areas of the state for the number of residents vaccinated. As of Friday, less than one half eligible peninsula residents — 48.9% — were fully vaccinated. The Matanuska-Susitna region is the only region with a lower rate, at 41.7%.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at