Monitoring COVID-19 Community Levels to guide COVID-19 prevention efforts. Persons can use information about the current level of COVID-19 impact on their community to decide which prevention behaviors to use and when (at all times or at specific times), based on their own risk for severe illness and that of members of their household, their risk tolerance, and setting-specific factors. CDC’s COVID-19 Community Levels reflect the current effect of COVID-19 on communities and identify geographic areas that might experience increases in severe COVID-19–related outcomes, based on hospitalization rates, hospital bed occupancy, and COVID-19 incidence during the preceding period*** (1). Prevention recommendations based on COVID-19 Community Levels have the explicit goals of reducing medically significant illness and limiting strain on the health care system. At all COVID-19 Community Levels (low, medium, and high), recommendations emphasize staying up to date with vaccination, improving ventilation, testing persons who are symptomatic and those who have been exposed, and isolating infected persons. At the medium COVID-19 Community Level, recommended strategies include adding protections for persons who are at high risk for severe illness (e.g., use of masks or respirators that provide a higher level of wearer protection). At the high COVID-19 Community Level, additional recommendations focus on all persons wearing masks indoors in public and further increasing protection to populations at high risk.††† As SARS-CoV-2 continues to circulate, changes in COVID-19 Community Levels for a jurisdiction help signal when use of some prevention strategies should be discontinued or increased, based on an individual person’s level of risk for severe illness or that of their household or social contacts. The COVID-19 Community Levels provide a broad framework for public health officials and jurisdictions to use and adapt as needed based on local context by combining local information to assess the need for public health interventions.
Nonpharmaceutical interventions. Implementation of multiple prevention strategies helps protect individual persons and communities from SARS-CoV-2 exposure and reduce risk for medically significant illness and death by reducing risk for infection (Table). Implementation of multiple nonpharmaceutical preventive interventions can complement use of vaccines and therapeutics, especially as COVID-19 Community Levels increase and among persons at high risk for severe illness. CDC’s COVID-19 prevention recommendations no longer differentiate based on a person’s vaccination status because breakthrough infections occur, though they are generally mild (16), and persons who have had COVID-19 but are not vaccinated have some degree of protection against severe illness from their previous infection (17). In addition to strategies recommended at all COVID-19 Community Levels, education and messaging to help individual persons understand their risk for medically significant illness complements recommendations for prevention strategies based on risk.
Testing for current infection. Diagnostic testing can identify infections early so that infected persons can take action to reduce their risk for transmitting virus and receive treatment, if clinically indicated, to reduce their risk for severe illness and death. All persons should seek testing for active infection when they are symptomatic or if they have a known or suspected exposure to someone with COVID-19. When considering whether and where to implement screening testing of asymptomatic persons with no known exposure, public health officials might consider prioritizing high-risk congregate settings, such as long-term care facilities, homeless shelters, and correctional facilities, and workplace settings that include congregate housing with limited access to medical care.§§§ In these types of high-risk congregate settings, screening testing might complement diagnostic testing of symptomatic persons by identifying asymptomatic infected persons (18,19). When implemented, screening testing strategies should include all persons, irrespective of vaccination status. Screening testing might not be cost-effective in general community settings, especially if COVID-19 prevalence is low (20,21).
Isolation. Symptomatic or infected persons should isolate promptly, and infected persons should remain in isolation for ≥5 days and wear a well-fitting and high-quality mask or respirator if they must be around others. Infected persons may end isolation after 5 days, only when they are without a fever for ≥24 hours without the use of medication and all other symptoms have improved, and they should continue to wear a mask or respirator around others at home and in public through day 10¶¶¶ (Figure) (22,23). Persons who have access to antigen tests and who choose to use testing to determine when they can discontinue masking should wait to take the first test until at least day 6 and they are without a fever for ≥24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medication and all other symptoms have improved. Use of two antigen tests with ≥48 hours between tests provides more reliable information because of improved test sensitivity (24). Two consecutive test results must be negative for persons to discontinue masking. If either test result is positive, persons should continue to wear a mask around others and continue testing every 48 hours until they have two sequential negative results.****
Managing SARS-CoV-2 exposures. CDC now recommends case investigation and contact tracing only in health care settings and certain high-risk congregate settings.†††† In all other circumstances, public health efforts can focus on case notification and provision of information and resources to exposed persons about access to testing. Persons who have had recent confirmed or suspected exposure to an infected person should wear a mask for 10 days around others when indoors in public and should receive testing ≥5 days after exposure (or sooner, if they are symptomatic), irrespective of their vaccination status.§§§§ In light of high population levels of anti–SARS-CoV-2 seroprevalence (7,16), and to limit social and economic impacts, quarantine of exposed persons is no longer recommended, regardless of vaccination status.