RICHMOND, Va. -- Much ofCentral Virginia is now considered to be under a high COVID-19 community level, according updated data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Chesterfield, Colonial Heights, Goochland, Hanover, Henrico, New Kent and the City of Richmond are in the high COVID-19 community level.
The rest of the localities in Central Virginia are ranked at either medium while Dinwiddie has dropped to low and Petersburg remained at a low level for this week.
The agency ranks communities as low, medium or high based on a combination of three metrics: hospitalizations, hospital capacity and the number of cases in the community.
Emily Rich, an epidemiologist with the Richmond Henrico Health District, said each level comes different recommendations on what the public should do. The biggest change for those in the high areas is the recommendation to mask up in indoor public places regardless of vaccination status.
"Especially individuals who are immunocompromised at high risk of severe illness, or those people that might be around people that are at higher risks," Rich said. "We also recommend that masks are worn anytime you're on public transportation."
Epidemiologist Dr. Gonzalo Bearman, VCU Health's chief of infectious diseases, added that people who are considered high-risk, should consider avoiding public indoors spaces if possible.
Bearman was not surprised Metro Richmond has jumped to high.
"I think this is important reminder to all of us that COVID-19 has not gone away," Bearman said. "It's also a reminder to many of us that if you're not vaccinated, now's the time to get vaccinated. If you're vaccinated and eligible for a booster, it's time to go for a booster."
BONUS: Watch the complete interview with Dr. Bearman in the video player below.
Bearman is hopeful people will follow the recommendations to help stem the current uptick to keep hospitals from being overwhelmed like in previous waves of the virus.
"We're certainly nowhere near as being overwhelmed overrun by COVID-19 in the hospital this time, but certainly, it's also something we don't want to take lightly want to be well prepared and keep our finger on the pulse of that," Bearman said.
BONUS: Watch the complete interview with Chesterfield Health Director Dr. Alexander Samuel in the video player below.
Officials noted that while many people will likely be gathering outdoors over the long holiday weekend, social distancing is still advised.
"Transmission seems to be lower outdoors," Rich explained. "[But] if you're in a heavily crowded area where you can't maintain social distancing, it is always a good idea to throw on that mask, especially if that makes you feel more safe, more comfortable."
Along with masking, officials recommend having a supply of at-home test kits on-hand.
"In Richmond, we can get free tests from some of the libraries. You can also order tests from COVIDtest.gov," Rich said.
Virginians age 5+ are eligible for COVID-19 vaccine. Go to Vaccine Finderto search for specific vaccines available near you or call 877-VAX-IN-VA (877-275-8343).