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COVID risk levels have dropped in much of Florida, but Hillsborough remains a hot spot

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Nationally, more than 90% of the U.S. population is in a location with low or medium COVID-19 community level, the CDC said.

Northeast Florida and most of Central Florida are no longer considered at high risk for COVID-19, according to the latest The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics issued Thursday.

Those regions were at high risk last week when the CDC announced it was easing COVID guidelines as cases and hospitalizations continued to drop nationwide. Areas ranked at low or medium risk are free to forgo their masks indoors. Masks are still recommended indoors for people in areas rated high risk.

Click here to look up your county's CDC COVID-19 community level.

Click here for an interactive U.S. map of community levels from the CDC

Nationally, more than 90% of the U.S. population is in a location with low or medium COVID-19 community level, the CDC said.

In the greater Tampa Bay area, Hillsborough County remained at high risk, as did Polk, Hardee and Highlands. Other counties in the region were at medium risk except for Manatee, which is now a low-risk area.

In Central Florida, Orange, Seminole, Lake, Sumter, Marion and Osceola dropped from high to medium risk. Seminole remained at medium risk and Brevard dropped from medium to low.

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As of March 3, 2022

The positivity rate in Orange County is down to 6.4%, a big change compared with Jan. 10, when the rate was 40.8% and the highly contagious omicron variant caused cases to surge statewide. County hospitalizations also are down, and 76% of eligible residents have received at least one vaccination shot.

“All of these indicators tell me that we are in a much better place today than at the beginning of this year,” Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said Thursday at his weekly COVID briefing.

In Northeast Florida, Duval, Baker, Nassau and Baker counties dropped from high to medium risk. St. Johns went from medium at low risk. Clay remained at medium risk.

Leon County is listed as low risk. All of South Florida is low risk, including Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Lee and Collier.

The new CDC guidelines were released as COVID numbers dropped to levels not seen before the surge of the omicron variant,

The CDC now asseses risk based on three measures: new COVID-related hospital admissions over the previous week and the percentage of hospital beds occupied by COVID patients, as well as new cases per 100,000 people over the previous week. Based on these measures, counties can calculate whether the risk to their residents is low, medium or high.

Until last week, CDC guidelines relied only on the number of cases in a community to determine the need for restrictions such as mask wearing.

The move to ease masking guidance nationally, federal officials say, reflects current conditions at this phase of the pandemic, including widespread immunity through vaccination and prior infection as well as better access to testing and treatments.

Health officials emphasized that people should still wear masks if they wish or if they are personally at high risk. And regardless of local conditions, they should mask if they have COVID-19 symptoms, a positive test or have been exposed to someone with COVID-19.

The CDC said it will continue to update community level data on Thursdays.