Do I have to wear a mask to the grocery store in KY? What the new CDC guidance means.

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Earlier this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised that anyone across the United States who lives in a county where spread of COVID-19 is considered dangerous should return to wearing a mask in all indoor public settings, regardless of vaccination status.

More specifically, the CDC advised universal masking in parts of the country with “substantial” or “high” levels of transmission. In Kentucky, that amounts to more than 87% of the state, including Fayette and Jefferson counties. According to the federal health agency’s coronavirus tracker, using data from July 21 to 27, spread of the coronavirus is severe enough to warrant re-masking in 105 of Kentucky’s 120 counties.

Counties of exception, where the level of community transmission is considered “moderate,” include: Fulton, Hickman, Carlisle, Ballard, Trigg, McCreary, Cumberland, Carroll, Scott, Estill, Owsley, Robertson, Wolfe, Morgan and Magoffin counties.

The CDC’s guidance is a recommendation, not a mandate. It considers a county’s level of transmission red-level, or “high” if there are 100 or more new cases per 100,000 people in a week, and orange, or “substantial,” if a county confirms 50 to 100 new cases per population in a week.

All but 15 of Kentucky’s 120 counties were experiencing high or substantial rates of transmission of the COVID-19 virus in the last week of July, 2021.
All but 15 of Kentucky’s 120 counties were experiencing high or substantial rates of transmission of the COVID-19 virus in the last week of July, 2021.

The Kentucky Department for Public Health’s threshold for what it deems “accelerated” and “critical” levels of spread is lower than the CDC’s, but Gov. Andy Beshear and Public Health Commissioner Steven Stack have urged Kentuckians to follow the federal health guidance.

If you live in a county with a high or substantial level of transmission, based on the CDC’s recommendation, you should resume wearing a mask in all indoor public settings when around people outside your household.

That includes teachers and students in schools and classrooms, employees in their workplaces when around others, staff and shoppers at grocery stores, banks, pharmacies, and patrons in restaurants, bars and event spaces. Before the CDC reissued its updated guidance, Beshear and Dr. Stack recommended that people who work in high-trafficked jobs and those at-risk for severe infection because of pre-existing health conditions wear masks again in public spaces.

Masks are only mandated in a few types of places in Kentucky, including health care settings such as hospitals, doctor’s offices; congregate living facilities such as nursing homes; public transportation, and, as of Thursday, state offices. As spread intensifies across the state, Beshear on Wednesday reinstituted a universal state employee mask mandate as an added precaution to thwart the shutdown of essential services due to exposed staff needing to quarantine.

While coronavirus vaccines are highly effective at protecting against severe infection and death, people who are fully vaccinated can still contract and spread the virus. Because the Delta strain of the virus is aggressively contagious, the nation’s highest health agency is recommending that even vaccinated people take the additional step of donning masks as an added layer of protection.

The governor said on Thursday that he was not “currently considering reinstating the mask mandate, [but] it’s on the table if needed.”

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