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Masks off for most: CDC downgrades COVID-19 threat for Knox Co. and much of East Tennessee

In most of East TN, masks are now only advised for people at high-risk to COVID-19 if a healthcare provider recommends them to wear one.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Knox County and the majority of East Tennessee are no longer considered to have a 'high' COVID-19 threat in the community under new federal health guidelines, meaning masks are no longer recommended as a general prevention measure for most people.  

On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention downgraded Knox County and several other East Tennessee counties to "medium" community-level threat. 

Some counties still remain under "high" threat to COVID-19 currently, including Morgan, Campbell, Union, Claiborne, Hancock, Grainger, Hawkins and Cocke counties. Based on infection and hospitalization trends in East Tennessee, though, these areas should likely see a similar downgrade in the near future.

Last week, the CDC outlined a new set of measures for communities where COVID-19 is easing its grip, with less of a focus on positive test results and more on what’s happening at hospitals --specifically the number of beds being utilized and the number of new admissions.

The new system greatly changes the look of the CDC's risk map and at the time put more than 70% of the U.S. population in counties where the coronavirus is posing a low or medium threat to hospitals. Those are the people who can stop wearing masks, the agency said.

For people in "medium" risk counties, masks are only advised for those at high-risk to COVID-19 if a healthcare provider recommends them to wear one. The CDC still recommends everyone to stay up to date with COVID-19 vaccinations, and to get tested for COVID-19 if they are experiencing symptoms in this category.

Some East Tennessee counties have fallen to the lowest risk level, which removes the recommendation for people with high-risk conditions. Those include Fentress and Cumberland counties.

You can check county-by-county risk levels at this link.

For Knox County Schools, masks were still mandated despite the new CDC guidance due to an ongoing court-ordered measure spurred from a lawsuit filed by several parents back in September. However, the parents who filed that lawsuit have asked a federal judge to update the court order to reflect the new CDC recommendations, saying masks would no longer be required in school so long as Knox County remains below the "high" threat.  

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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