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COVID: CDC recommends indoor masking in two major Florida metro areas

A federal health agency is recommending indoor masking in the three South Florida counties, along with six other counties in the state, a week after officials understated the COVID-19 health risk statewide.

Coronavirus infections have once again become so widespread, and hospitalizations so high, that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people mask up indoors and on public transportation in South Florida — Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties — the Tampa Bay area, and Sarasota, Polk and Alachua counties.

The recommendation is part of the CDC’s “Community Level” classification system, which tries to estimate if the respiratory disease has a low, medium or high risk of straining health-care systems in each U.S. county.

CDC: High-risk counties and facial coverings

People in high-risk counties should wear facial coverings while indoors in public, the CDC says. The CDC wrongly classified South Florida’s counties last week as medium-risk counties.

Along with Sarasota, Polk and Alachua, the Tampa Bay area-counties of Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco also are now in the high-risk category.

The federal agency did not count new infections last week in any of Florida’s 67 counties, it said in a footnote on its website. That led it to understate the threat of COVID in its rating system. The state Health Department feeds such data to the CDC.

Counties categorized as high-risk have, in the past week, logged at least 200 new COVID cases for every 100,000 residents, and either 10 COVID-positive hospital patients for every 100,000 residents or at least 10% of hospital patients having the disease.

Enforcement of masking laws and fines

Local governments in Florida cannot enforce broad masking laws because of Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Republican-dominated state Legislature. DeSantis ordered cities and counties in 2020 to stop fining people and businesses who break local laws on masking and social distancing.

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