On Thursday, April 21, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) updated its Community Levels. The weekly refresh reflected that Dane County has tipped from the “low” category into the “medium” COVID activity category. So, what are these Community Levels? And what does it mean for you? Let’s dive in.

What are Community Levels?

In February, the CDC updated the way it monitors COVID-19 and its impact on communities. With the widespread availability of vaccines, testing and treatments, COVID looks different than it did two years ago. Therefore, the way we approach COVID moving forward is going to look different, too. Instead of focusing primarily on case counts to gauge where we stand, we also consider additional predictors of severe outcomes due to COVID, including hospitalizations (and percent of beds utilized by COVID patients).

The CDC looks at the following three metrics to figure out COVID-19 community levels:

  • New COVID-19 hospital admissions per 100,000 population in the past 7 days (regional)
  • The 7-day average percent of staffed inpatient beds occupied by COVID-19 patients (regional)
  • Total new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 population in the past 7 days

Notice that the hospitalization metrics are based on regional Health Service Areas, not just Dane County. Our region encompasses seven counties in south central Wisconsin. Using this information, the COVID-19 community level is classified as low, medium, or high. Once a week, on Thursday evenings, communities all across the country can get a fresh look at where they stand within these metrics, including Dane County.

The CDC recommends people adjust behaviors based on which category a community falls in.

What do these levels mean to me?

People make decisions about their individual behaviors every day. In many cases, the risk associated with those decisions increased during the pandemic. Am I going to go to that office party? Should I wear a mask inside that restaurant? Do I need to get a test before going home for the holidays? The CDC’s Community Levels system is one of many tools at our disposal to help make those decisions a little clearer.

Staying up to date on your vaccines is the best thing you can do, no matter the community level. It’s especially important at this moment when we see cases are increasing, but not hospitalizations. Other considerations while we are at the medium level include:

  • If you are immunocompromised or at high risk for severe disease, talk to your health care provider about whether you should wear a mask in public.
  • If you live with someone at high risk, or come in contact with people who are high risk, consider wearing a mask while indoors with them or using a home test before coming in contact with them.
  • If you have symptoms or were exposed, be sure to get tested and stay home while you’re sick/waiting for results.

From quarantine recommendations to advice for business owners, we have all of the latest guidance on our What to do if you’re sick or possibly exposed pages.

What would it take to reach a “High” Level?

A couple of different scenarios could lead Dane County to reaching the “high” level of transmission:

Scenario 1: Higher cases + elevated hospitalizations = High

Right now, Dane County has over 200 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people in the last 7 days, which is what put us in the “medium” category. However, we aren’t going to end up in the “high” category without hospitalizations also increasing. In order to reach high, we would have to keep a sustained case level and see the following happen:

  • Regional new COVID-19 hospital admissions per 100,000 population (7-day total) of 10 or greater (As of 4/21, we are at 3/100,000)
  • Percent of regional staffed inpatient hospital beds occupied by COVID-19 patients (7-day average) of 10% or greater (As of 4/21, we are at 1.6%)

Scenario 2: Lower cases + very elevated hospitalizations = High

If our cases fell back down to less than 200 new cases per 100,000 people, we could still reach high if we saw a very elevated hospitalization rate:

  • Regional new COVID-19 hospital admissions per 100,000 population (7-day total) of 20 or greater
  • Percent of regional staffed inpatient hospital beds occupied by COVID-19 patients (7-day average) of 15% or greater

The case activity in Dane County has been increasing for nearly six weeks, with a current 7-day average of 224 cases per day. However, due to our county’s high vaccination coverage, available treatment options, and immunity following the Omicron surge in January, hospitalizations are (so far at least) staying low and stable.

Our hospitalization metrics are currently far from the levels that would bring us to the High category, but those metrics also depend on the disease levels of our surrounding counties. We are likely capturing a higher percentage of cases than other counties in Wisconsin, as we’ve recently been testing at a rate almost double the rate of the state overall, so it’s difficult to compare our case rate to other counties and predict when or if hospitalizations at the regional level might increase.

How do changes in community levels change what Public Health is doing?

We are going to continue to support our community in staying healthy through testing and vaccination services. Dane County has a strong network of testing partners, giving individuals a variety of options for getting a test or a vaccine: Public Health offices, pharmacies, businesses, and healthcare providers.

You can find spots to get vaccinated—including many pop-up vaccination sites—on our website. There, you can also find a full list of testing options in Dane County.

This content is free for use with credit to the City of Madison - Public Health Madison & Dane County and a link back to the original post.