Most people in the United States now live in counties where those who are healthy no longer need to wear masks, but there are still about 472 counties nationwide where mask-wearing is recommended, according to the latest data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Florida’s Hillsborough County is one of them.
In that county on Wednesday, Gov. Ron DeSantis approached a group of students wearing masks who were standing behind a podium at the University of South Florida, where the Republican governor was scheduled to hold a news conference. He told the students, “You do not have to wear those masks. I mean, please take them off.”
But according to the CDC’s latest guidance, people are recommended to still wear masks indoors in counties that have “high” levels of Covid-19, including Hillsborough County.
The CDC said Thursday that “more than 90%” of US residents are now in a location with low or medium Covid-19 community levels. A CNN analysis of the data finds that 7% of the US population is in counties with “high” Covid-19 community levels, down from 28% last week.
DeSantis called the students’ mask-wearing “ridiculous,” but they were following CDC recommendations. Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, said DeSantis was “bullying” the students for wearing masks.
“Gov. DeSantis has proven himself to be someone who does not follow good science advice, obviously for political reasons,” Benjamin told CNN on Thursday. “I was horrified at what he did.”
On Twitter, DeSantis spokeswoman Christina Pushaw doubled down on the governor’s comments: “I mean, someone had to say it, after 2 years of propaganda that terrified and manipulated young people. Breathe free, feel safe and be happy.”
Across the United States, most of the counties that still have high Covid-19 levels, based on the CDC’s updated metrics, might be affected by various factors, Benjamin said: low Covid-19 vaccination rates, limited access to health resources or the continuing spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant.
“Some of those places were places where Omicron kind of hit later. So like Maine. If you look at Maine right now, you would think, ‘Maine is highly vaccinated; why is Maine getting hit so heavily? They still have an outbreak going on there,’ ” Benjamin said. “Well, it’s because they got hit by Omicron later.”
Where Covid-19 is still ‘high’ but mask mandates are lifting
Some of the counties that still have “high” levels of Covid-19 are in states that either never had indoor mask mandates or lifted their mandates earlier on in the pandemic.
Last week, California dropped its indoor mask