Frequently Asked Questions about Data and reporting

The CDC COVID-19 Community Level is a measure that takes into consideration COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and hospital capacity within a community. When the level is higher, more prevention measures, like masking, are recommended to keep people healthy and limit strain on the local healthcare system.

CDC’s masking recommendations based on COVID-19 community level are:

  • Low: Mask use is based on personal preference and risk assessment.
  • Medium: People who are at high risk for severe health impacts if infected with COVID-19, or who regularly interact with someone at high risk, should strongly consider wearing a mask in indoor public settings for additional protection from COVID-19.
  • High: People should wear masks in indoor public settings, including in schools and workplaces.

There are also some situations where people should wear a mask, regardless of Community Level—such as if they have symptoms, have tested positive for COVID-19, or have been exposed to COVID-19. (See Quarantine and Isolation).

Depending on where you live, state or local elected officials typically have the authority to create or lift mask requirements and issue mask recommendations. As respiratory illnesses are spiking in many parts of the country, and based on CDC’s COVID-19 Community Level framework, some state and local officials are revisiting their indoor mask guidance. While the COVID-19 Community Level doesn’t currently take into account flu or RSV levels, data show that masks can also be effective in reducing the transmission of flu and RSV. 

Questions that may help you make a decision about whether to wear a mask include:

  • What is your COVID-19 Community Level?
  • What health risks do you and your family members have? For example, are you or anyone in your family an older adult or have an underlying health condition, such as diabetes or heart disease?
  • Do you have young children in your household who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated?
  • Are you up to date on your vaccinations (fully vaccinated and boosted if eligible)?
  • Are other respiratory illnesses circulating at high levels in your community?

Regardless of Community Level or whether your state, county, or city requires masks, you may decide that wearing a mask is the right decision for you.

Updated December 14, 2022 

Hospitals, healthcare providers, and laboratories track COVID-19 cases and report COVID-19 case information to public health departments, which report detailed data to the CDC. The CDC makes this data publicly available and reports national COVID-19 data to the World Health Organization, as required under international health regulations. Accurately tracking the spread of COVID-19 helps federal, state, and local decision-makers allocate critical emergency response funding and develop public health guidance.  

COVID-19 remains a serious threat to public health, and there is evidence to support the current case count. In fact, experts agree that the number of COVID cases and deaths are probably undercounted because not everyone with COVID will have been tested and diagnosed.

The CDC’s data report also helps scientists and medical experts evaluate trends to identity groups most at risk. For example, data show that underlying conditions like diabetes and heart disease greatly increases a person’s risk for life-threatening consequences from the infection. The high rate of chronic illness in the U.S. (6 in 10 adults have a chronic disease) has contributed to the high number of COVID-19 deaths, but it is important to remember that people with pre-existing conditions would likely have lived years longer if they had not been infected with COVID-19. For that reason, even with an underlying condition, the cause of these deaths is COVID-19.

Updated February 18, 2022 

Messaging Resources about Data and reporting

Misinformation Alerts about Data and reporting

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