Washingtonians can start dropping their masks inside schools and many businesses on March 12, under Gov. Jay Inslee’s accelerated plan. But “can” doesn’t necessarily mean “should.”

Inslee sped up the timeline on Monday after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidelines that focus less on test results and more on what’s happening at hospitals. The new federal approach is intended to allow people in communities where COVID-19 is easing to take a “break” from masking.

Not every community in Washington state falls into that category, though. The state has a wide range of risk levels, and residents of a high-risk county might work and shop in the low-risk county next door. The CDC is offering an interactive map to help you understand the risk level in each place and make decisions accordingly.

A county’s color depends on its rate of new COVID-19 hospital admissions, how many hospital beds are occupied by COVID-19 patients, and the rate of new cases.

One important caveat: An update from Washington state’s Department of Health on Friday urged people to “use caution” with the county-by-county tool because COVID-19 levels are underestimated in some counties due to a “reporting discrepancy between the CDC COVID Data Tracker and the DOH COVID-19 Dashboard.”

How should risk levels influence real-life decisions, like whether to mask at the gym and what your child should do at school? This guide walks through the factors to consider as you navigate mask choices in everyday life. If you’re sticking with your mask, know how to pick a good one and wear it correctly.

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