The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new mask guidance on Friday that allows counties with lower rates of community spread to relax some of their precautions.

But residents of Bexar County will need to keep their masks on indoors a little longer, the CDC said.

The latest effort is intended to prevent COVID-19 from straining communities and health care systems, according to the CDC’s statement.

Counties with high community spread levels are recommended to take additional precautions, including mask-wearing in public, while counties with lower spread levels can relax precautions.

In Bexar County, which still has a “high” level of virus transmission, according to the CDC’s classifications, residents are still recommended to wear a mask indoors when in public, stay up to date on vaccines and get tested if experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. 

Regardless of spread levels, the CDC recommends vaccines for all eligible populations.

For counties with low community spread, the CDC is easing its recommendations on preventative measures like mask-wearing, only recommending COVID-19 vaccines and boosters when eligible. Only those at high risk for severe illness from COVID-19 are recommended to mask in public in areas with low community spread.

Bexar County’s own COVID-19 dashboard on Friday listed the risk level in the county as “moderate.”

Dr. Rita Espinoza, chief of epidemiology with the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District, explained that the difference between the CDC and city’s assessments was a result of using different indicators to measure the risk. 

The county uses a seven-day moving average to calculate risk levels of the virus, while the CDC measures by the cumulative total number of cases reported in the last seven days, Espinoza said. 

“We do it based on the average number of new cases reported on a day, so not for the whole week. It’s not a cumulative number,” she said. 

The CDC’s COVID-19 transmission levels are determined based on the county’s new coronavirus admissions per 100,000 people within the past seven days, percentage of staffed inpatient beds occupied by COVID-19 patients and new cases per 100,000 people within the past seven days, according to its website. 

According to its website, Bexar County determines transmission levels by weighing in daily case numbers over a 14-day period, case rate per 100,000 people within the past seven days, and factors like positive lab tests and health system stress scores.

Espinoza said the CDC’s risk level is a way to standardize data across all counties in the US, but added that the CDC still recommends using local data to make decisions. 

“Things are improving, yet the virus is still here,” Espinosa said, and encouraged masking indoors with individuals outside of your own household, and vaccines to decrease the virus circulating in the community.

Recent Bexar County COVID-19 data suggests a two-week decline in cases, a moderate average case rate and moderate positivity rate, but indicates severe hospital trends and severe hospital stress.

Raquel Torres

Raquel Torres is the San Antonio Report's breaking news reporter. She previously worked at the Tyler Morning Telegraph and is a 2020 graduate of Stephen F. Austin State University.