FAQ: What CDC’s latest guidelines mean for DC region

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has walked back some mask-wearing guidelines, recommending fully vaccinated people return to wearing masks indoors in parts of the country where the coronavirus is surging.

WTOP has answers to some common questions about where D.C., Maryland and Virginia stand on coronavirus guidelines.

  • Q: What does the CDC’s new mask guidance say?
  • The CDC announced new recommendations that vaccinated people return to wearing masks indoors in parts of the U.S. where the coronavirus is surging. The CDC also recommended indoor masks for all teachers, staff, students and visitors to schools, regardless of vaccination status — citing new information about the ability of the delta variant to spread among some vaccinated people.

    Most new infections in the U.S. continue to be among unvaccinated people. So-called breakthrough infections, which generally cause milder illness, can occur in vaccinated people.

  • Q: How does the CDC describe different levels of community transmission?
  • The CDC tracks community transmission based on two indicators: The total number of cases in the past seven days per 100,000 residents and the positivity rate of coronavirus tests in a given area over the past seven days.

    The cases per 100,000 indicator is broken down into four levels:

    • Low transmission: 0 — 9.99 cases per 100,000 persons in the last seven days
    • Moderate transmission: 10 — 49.99 cases per 100,000 persons in the last seven days
    • Substantial transmission: 50 — 99.99 cases per 100,000 persons in the last seven days
    • High transmission: 100 or more cases per 100,000 persons in the last seven days

    The positivity rate indicator is also broken down into four levels:

    • Low transmission: 0 -4.99% positivity rate
    • Moderate transmission: 5-7.99% positivity rate
    • Substantial transmission rate: 8-9.99%
    • High transmission rate: Greater than 10%

    Community transmission rates are being tracked by the CDC.

  • Q: What do the numbers look like in DC, Maryland and Virginia?
  • The CDC recommends looking at data at a county level.

    Click on the interactive maps below to see COVID-19 transmission rates for individual counties:

    The CDC's new policies recommend indoor mask-wearing cover cases where substantial and high transmission are occurring.

  • Q: Does the CDC recommend wearing masks indoors for fully vaccinated people in D.C., Maryland and Virginia?
  • The CDC’s guidelines recommend indoor mask-wearing in areas of substantial or high transmission, regardless of vaccination status. However, it’s up to each jurisdiction whether they will reimpose mandates that people wear face coverings.

    In D.C., a new indoor mask order regardless of vaccination status went into effect July 31 at 5 a.m.

    In Virginia, Gov. Ralph Northam recommended Virginians “consider” wearing masks indoors where there is an increased risk of COVID-19 transmission indicated by the CDC’s new guidelines. “This is not a requirement, but a recommendation,” he said.

    In a July 27 announcement, the City of Alexandria announced that it also has substantial transmission level. “Because Alexandria is currently in a state of substantial transmission, and is exceeding 50 new cases per 100,000 residents in the past seven days, masks should be worn in public indoor settings,” the city said in a news release.

    Loudoun County’s government will require all its employees and visitors to county facilities — regardless of vaccination status — to wear face masks while inside all county facilities beginning Monday, Aug. 9.

    On Friday, Aug. 6, Fairfax County and Prince William County each announced the same policy.

    In Maryland, Anne Arundel County announced that masks are required indoors at all county-owned buildings, regardless of people’s vaccination status, and starting next month, all county employees will need to either show proof of vaccination or take weekly COVID-19 tests before reporting to work.

    In Prince George’s County, Executive Angela Alsobrooks announced an indoor public mask mandate starting Aug. 8. at 5 p.m. The county also requires masks to be worn inside all county government building, which takes effect Aug. 6 at 5 p.m.

    The City of Laurel joined Prince George’s County in reinstating its indoor face mask policy for everyone entering a city building or facility. Everyone who enters a city facility will be required to sanitize their hands and have their temperature taken at the entrance.

    Officials in Montgomery County, Maryland, voted to reinstate a mask mandate requiring people in the county to wear face coverings in indoor public spaces, regardless of whether they have been vaccinated against COVID-19. It goes into effect Aug. 7 at 12:01 a.m. and applies to “indoor areas open to the public.”

    Gaithersburg and Rockville, in Montgomery County, are again requiring visitors and staff in city buildings to wear masks, regardless of vaccination status.

    After declaring a local state of emergency, the Charles County Board of Commissioners voted to reinstate its indoor public mask mandate starting on Aug. 13 at 5 p.m. The directive will require both unvaccinated and vaccinated people over 5 years old to wear face coverings at all public indoor locations. The order applies to restaurants, retail stores, entertainment venues, conference centers and office settings.

  • Q: What are the mask regulations for DC-area public schools?
  • The CDC recommends that all students wear masks in school.

    Faced with the new CDC guidance and the approaching start to the school year, more school districts across the D.C. region are making decisions about what to do.


    In Maryland, the large public school systems in the WTOP listening area are requiring masks in school buildings regardless of vaccination status.

    Anne Arundel, Charles, Frederick, Howard, Montgomery County and Prince George’s counties in Maryland are requiring masks to be worn in school buildings. Additionally, student-athletes in Charles County public schools are now required to either provide proof of having been fully vaccinated or enter in a COVID-19 screening program to participate in fall sports.

    D.C. Public Schools is also requiring masks in its school buildings.

    In Virginia, school systems in Arlington County, Alexandria City, Fairfax County, Loudoun County and Prince William County are also requiring masks for students.

    Stafford County will temporarily require teachers, students and staff to wear masks indoors for the first 30 days of school this fall. Board member Irene Hollerback says this will give them time to look at metrics and come up with a long-term plan. Later this month, the board will also consider an opt-out form for parents that don’t want their kids to wear masks.

  • Q: Where, how should I wear a mask?
  • D.C. released guidance on the recommendations that the general public should follow for wearing face coverings. These include:

    • Everyone (including vaccinated people) must wear masks in indoor public settings, such as businesses that are open to the public, such as stores, restaurants and bars (when not eating or drinking), places of worship, gyms, entertainment venues, and other such places.
    • Masks should be worn in schools, child care and health care settings, prisons, homeless shelters.
    • Masks should be worn on public transportation.
    • Masks should be worn when required to per workplace or establishment policies

    Here are some instances when you do not have to wear a mask?

    • When actively eating or drinking.
    • Actively playing indoor sports in a collegiate or professional setting.
    • In the water at the pool or aquatic facility.
    • In an enclosed office that no one else is permitted to enter.
    • When giving a speech for broadcast or an audience, provided no one is within 6 feet of the speaker.
    • When performing, as long as performers maintain 6-foot distance from any audience members.
    • When speaking to or translating for a deaf or hard of hearing person
    • When lawfully asked to remove their mask for facial recognition purposes

    You can read the full guidance here.

  • Q: What prompted the CDC to change its guidance?
  • The CDC revised its guidance on mask-wearing due to new COVID-19 surges in the U.S. in areas where people largely remain unvaccinated, coupled with the ability of the more virulent delta variant to spread — even among vaccinated people.

    The CDC said that “breakthrough” infections, which generally cause milder illness, can still occur in vaccinated people. With the delta variant, the level of virus in infected vaccinated people is “indistinguishable” from the level of virus in the noses and throats of unvaccinated people, CDC Director Rochelle P. Walensky.

  • Q: How are the beaches faring?
  • Maryland’s Worcester County, where Ocean City is located,  has reached substantial community transmission as defined by the CDC.

    Sussex County, where Rehoboth, Bethany and Fenwick are located, is also at substantial transmission.

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