COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Franklin County dropped from the highest level of COVID-19 transmission on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s map Wednesday, pushing Columbus one step closer to lifting its mask mandate.

City and county health officials say they are watching the CDC’s daily-updated map closely, as Franklin County’s color will determine when Columbus leaders lift the city’s mask requirement.

The map indicates the severity of the coronavirus’s spread in every U.S. county. Two metrics over the past seven days determine a county’s status: new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents and the percentage of NAAT (PCR swab) tests that came back positive.

The four levels run from blue (lowest) to yellow to orange to red (highest). If one indicator is higher than the other, the higher level is selected:

The above table shows the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s color code for COVID-19 transmission in U.S. counties. If one indicator is higher than the other, the higher level is selected. (Screenshot/

Franklin County dropped from red to orange on Wednesday when new coronavirus cases fell to a “substantial” level of 96.3 per 100,000 residents over the past week, per the map data. Test positivity is already in the yellow (“moderate”) level, now at 5.74% as of Wednesday.

When both indicators are at worst colored yellow, Franklin County will turn yellow overall. That’s when Columbus Public Health has said it will recommend the city mask mandate be lifted.

Mayor Andrew Ginther said last week he thinks it will be only “weeks” until the mandate lifts.

“Our collective efforts to control the spread of the virus have worked,” the mayor said, “and we look forward to lifting mask requirements in the very near future.”

Neighboring Delaware and Fairfield counties also fell from red to orange on Wednesday. Delaware is seeing 91.79 cases per 100,000 and a 6.92% test positivity, while Fairfield is at 92.02 per 100,000 and 6.12%.

Three of other four counties bordering Franklin are close to turning orange, as Pickaway, Licking and Madison have orange test positivity of 7.26%, 7.33% and 9.52%, respectively.

Licking and Madison are closest to turning orange overall with case rates of 115.34 and 116.25 per 100,000. Pickaway is at 148.83 cases per 100,000.

Union County is still red on both indicators, with 12.54% test positivity and 228.86 cases per 100,000 in the past week.

Ohio’s improvements on the CDC map are generally following the region by region trajectory in falling cases since the January peak in the state’s omicron variant wave.

The variant first took hold in northern Ohio — notably the Cleveland and Akron areas — and made its way south to central Ohio and then southern Ohio.

Before Wednesday, all central Ohio counties were red, and much of northeastern Ohio was orange. Now, the central and western regions are seeing spots of orange, including population centers other than Franklin County like Hamilton (Cincinnati), Montgomery (Dayton) and Hancock (Findlay) counties.

Eight counties have already dropped to yellow, all in northern Ohio and even including highly populated Summit County (Akron). Just a day ago, only rural Holmes County, just south of Wooster, was yellow.