Since 17 of the state’s 21 counties are now at a high level of COVID-19 cases as the transmission of Omicron’s BA.5 variant ramps up this summer, families are encouraged to break out their masks again.

Atlantic, Bergen, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Essex, Gloucester, Hudson, Middlesex, Monmouth, Morris, Ocean, Passaic, Somerset, Sussex, Union and Warren counties are at level high.

In counties where the community level is high, the recommendation is for you to wear a mask indoors, stay up-to-date with COVID-19 vaccines and get tested if you have symptoms.

Cumberland, Hunterdon, Mercer and Salem counties currently remain at a medium level.

In counties where the community level is medium, anyone who is at high risk for severe illness should talk to their healthcare provider about whether or not to wear a mask and take other precautions. Residents of these counties are still recommended to stay up-to-date with their COVID vaccines and get tested if symptoms appear.

COVID-19 community levels are a tool to help communities decide what prevention steps to take based on the latest data. Levels can be low, medium or high and are determined by looking at hospital beds being used, hospital admissions and the total number of new COVID-19 cases in an area.

The CDC updates its announcements and statistics weekly by 8 pm Thursdays.

Parents must determine what safety guidelines are best for their children. Vaccines are not mandated yet but last month the FDA did authorize the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine for kids as young as six months. Pfizer-BioNTech released a study saying that its COVID vaccine is safe for kids ages 6 months to 5 years; the study of approximately 1,700 children showed the vaccine to be 80 percent protective during the Omicron wave. Most adverse reactions were mild or moderate.

Children ages 5 – 11 are already approved for their initial vaccines plus one booster. Under the emergency use authorization, the booster shot can be given at least five months after the completion of the initial vaccine series. Although COVID tends to be less severe in kids than in adults, the Omicron wave has seen more kids getting sick with some being hospitalized and experiencing long-term side effects after mild cases.

For the adults and elderly in your family, the FDA expanded the emergency use authorization of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to allow adults 50 and older to get a second booster. The shot can be administered as early as four months after the first booster of any COVID-19 vaccine. Immunocompromised individuals are also eligible.

For those who initially got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and booster, it’s OK to get an additional booster of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. The CDC updated its vaccine pages to reflect the expanded eligibility.