An Updated Guide for Covid-19 Risk in Your County

Descriptions of the risk levels and guidance were updated on May 6 to explain that your risk is lower if you are vaccinated. See what is safe to do if you have or have not been vaccinated.

A majority of United States counties were experiencing high Covid-19 transmission or higher in early May, according to an analysis of coronavirus case and testing data by The New York Times and public health experts. This means that unvaccinated people in those counties are at high risk or higher. Vaccinated people are at lower risk.

The map below shows the current risk for unvaccinated people in each county, and will be updated regularly.

Covid-19 risk for unvaccinated people is based on cases and test positivity.
Source: Covid-19 risk assessment by The New York Times and Resolve to Save Lives based on reported cases and test positivity data. Read more below.

The Times published county-specific guidance for common activities to help you lower your personal risk of getting Covid-19 and to help you protect your community. This advice was developed with public health experts at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Resolve to Save Lives, an initiative of Vital Strategies.

“Providing transparent, real time information about what people’s risks are is empowering,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, who is a former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the president and C.E.O. of Resolve to Save Lives. “You want to know how hard it’s raining Covid.”

To visit a detailed page showing the risk level and specific suggestions for your community, search for a county below.

How to protect yourself and others

Here’s how to lower your personal risk of getting Covid-19 and protect your community. If you or someone in your household is older or has other risk factors for severe Covid-19, you may need to take extra precautions.

If you’re fully vaccinated

Individuals are considered to be fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving their final vaccine dose. If you are fully vaccinated, you may choose to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendations for fully vaccinated people since your risk of getting sick is much lower, but you should be mindful that it may still be possible for you to transmit Covid-19 to others. The C.D.C. has also released guidance for vaccinated and unvaccinated people about whether it is safe to do certain activities without a mask.

What can I do after being vaccinated?

According to the C.D.C., vaccinated people can participate in additional activities two weeks after receiving their final vaccine dose.

It’s low-risk to have indoor visits with other fully vaccinated people, such as inviting another household over for dinner without masks and without social distancing, as long as the size of these gatherings is limited to a few households.

Vaccinated people can also socialize indoors with unvaccinated people from a single household without a mask or social distancing, as long as none of the unvaccinated individuals are at elevated risk of severe Covid-19. For example, fully vaccinated grandparents can visit their healthy unvaccinated children and grandchildren.

Fully vaccinated people can also resume domestic travel and don’t need to get tested or self-quarantine after traveling.

Read more detailed advice on what you can do after vaccination here.

If you’re not fully vaccinated

Here’s how you can reduce the risk of getting Covid-19 if you haven’t yet completed your vaccination series.

Indoor activities are extremely dangerous right now.

Avoid indoor dining, bars, gyms, movie theaters and nonessential shopping, as well as having friends over to your home, and indoor personal care services like haircuts and manicures. Given the severity of the outbreak, spending time inside with people from other households puts you at risk for getting the coronavirus or spreading it to others.

Whenever possible, you should choose delivery or curbside pickup instead of shopping in person. If shopping in person is the only option, limit yourself to buying only essential supplies, shop during less crowded hours and keep your visits as short as possible.

Avoid nonessential travel.

Avoid all nonessential travel. If you must take a taxi, open the windows and sit far away from others in the vehicle. If you need to take public transit, try to avoid rush hours and crowds so you can keep your distance from others. If you fly, choose less crowded flights or airlines that keep middle seats empty.

Avoid events with more than a handful of people.

Weddings, funerals, concerts, sporting events and other gatherings that bring multiple households together are places where Covid can spread easily. At this level of risk, even outdoor events are not safe, so consider postponing. Religious services are safest when conducted outdoors and without singing.

Outdoor activities can be a good substitute.

Walking, cycling, running and other outdoor individual workouts are the safest kinds of exercise. Low-contact outdoor sports like singles tennis, skateboarding and golf may be enjoyed safely. Contact sports like basketball and soccer should be avoided.

Because of the extremely high risk of exposure to Covid, even outdoor dining and outdoor bars are unsafe.

Protect yourself at work and school.

Work remotely when possible and avoid in-person meetings. In the workplace, less crowded hours are the safest to be on the job.

Children tend to have less-severe symptoms but can still spread the coronavirus, so consider the health risks of everyone in your household when making decisions about your child’s activities.

Learning environments where students stay in small groups at all times make it safer for younger students to go to school. Older students should choose online instruction if possible. Avoid play dates and extracurricular activities.

Get medical care if you need it.

Do not skip or delay medical care, including mental health care. Talk to your doctors about postponing any nonessential appointments. If you have an appointment, call before your visit to find out if you need to take special precautions, and ask if telehealth is a good option for you.

Take these important precautions all the time.

You should stay at least six feet away from people who live in other households. Wear a mask that covers your nose and mouth when you are outside your home and whenever you are around people who do not live with you, including any visitors to your home.

If you feel sick or have been exposed to someone with Covid, you should stay home and get tested. If someone in your household feels sick or has been diagnosed with Covid-19, everyone should wear a mask, wash their hands often and stay at least six feet apart from one another, even inside your home.

Avoid crowds, and limit the number of people you meet and the amount of time you spend with them. Avoid indoor spaces with poor airflow. Wash your hands often, especially after visiting a public place or blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.

A look back at Covid-19 risk through time

This past winter, the overall Covid risk level throughout the country was much worse than earlier in the pandemic. At the beginning of the fall, most counties were at a very high risk, and many more were at a moderate or high risk. But by the start of winter most areas were at an extremely high risk. Risk levels for earlier in the pandemic are not available because of a lack of widespread testing and data.

About the Covid-19 risk levels

Each county’s Covid-19 risk is primarily based on the number of cases reported per capita during the past two weeks. Additional precautions are suggested if more than 10 percent of tests had a positive result over the past two weeks of available data. This can mean that the county is not testing enough, and that the number of cases may be undercounted.

Although risk levels are assigned based on expert guidance and careful analysis, it is possible that the risk level in a specific county may be over- or underestimated because of a lack of reliable data.

To learn more about county risk and guidance, visit a specific county’s page by using the search feature above.

A county is at an extremely high risk for unvaccinated people if it reported an average daily rate of more than 45 cases per 100,000 people over the past two weeks. Small counties with a population of less than 5,000 people are in this category if they reported more than 32 cases over the past two weeks. A county with fewer cases may also be in this category if more than 10 percent of tests had a positive result over the past two weeks. This can mean that the county is not testing enough, and that the number of cases may be significantly undercounted.

A county is at a very high risk for unvaccinated people if it reported an average daily rate of more than 11 cases per 100,000 people over the past two weeks. Small counties with a population of less than 5,000 people are in this category if they reported more than 8 cases over the past two weeks. A county with fewer cases may also be in this category if more than 10 percent of tests had a positive result over the past two weeks. This can mean that the county is not testing enough, and that the number of cases may be significantly undercounted.

A county is at a high risk for unvaccinated people if it reported an average daily rate of about 3 or more cases per 100,000 people over the past two weeks. Small counties with a population of less than 5,000 people are in this category if they reported more than 2 cases over the past two weeks. A county with fewer cases may also be in this category if more than 10 percent of tests had a positive result over the past two weeks. This can mean that the county is not testing enough, and that the number of cases may be significantly undercounted.

A county is at a moderate risk for unvaccinated people if it reported an average daily rate of about 1 case per 100,000 people over the past two weeks. Small counties with a population of less than 5,000 people are in this category if they reported 1 or more cases over the past two weeks.

A county is at a low risk for unvaccinated people if it reported an average daily rate of less than 1 case per 100,000 people over the past two weeks. Small counties with a population of less than 5,000 people are in this category if they reported no cases over the past two weeks.

In some cases, a county might not have a risk level if not enough recent data was available, or if inconsistencies were found in the data. If a county’s recent testing data was not available, the rate of positive tests in the state was used, along with recent cases, to calculate the risk level.

Since the risk levels were first published in January 2021, The Times has made the following methodology changes:

May 6, 2021: The description of the risk levels and guidance were changed to specify more clearly that they apply to unvaccinated individuals.

March 31, 2021: The description of the risk levels were changed to the risk of exposure to Covid-19, rather than the risk of getting Covid-19. This change was made to more accurately describe the risk situation for the growing number of vaccinated people.

March 23, 2021: The risk calculation method was adjusted to use the total number of reported cases, rather than the per capita number, in counties with fewer than 5,000 people. This change was made in order to estimate risk more precisely in areas where a single case may account for a large percentage of the population.

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