Health & Fit Public health experts: Even for vaccinated people, now is the time for masks and testing
Mass confusion over masks: So can vaccinated take them off or not?
The governor of New York on Thursday announced that the state was not yet ready to lift their mask mandate, despite the CDC earlier declaring that vaccinated people need not wear face masks.On Thursday, the federal health agency said fully vaccinated Americans do not have to wear masks outdoors in most indoor settings, aside from crowded places such as buses and planes.
As thesweeps across every state in the country as the dominant strain of , public health experts warn now is not the time to ditch masks or forgo testing.
If anything, the United States, particularly in areas where vaccination rates have stalled and coronavirus cases are rising, is at an urgent juncture in the pandemic, in which continued mask-wearing and testing are pivotal because of how quickly the variant has been spreading, the experts say.
"I think it's critical to be masking indoors no matter where you live," said Susan Hassig, an epidemiologist at the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, on Wednesday as herwas poised to patients since the pandemic began.
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Every parish in the state is at the highest risk level, of red, and Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, announced Wednesday an indoor mask mandate through at least Sept. 1 for anyone ages 5 and older who enter places like schools, businesses and churches, no matter their vaccination status.
"I can't tell you how different it feels than ever before," Hassig said. "This virus is moving so fast. More and more counties on the local levels are turning orange and red every day. It's critical to mask and test on suspicion of exposure."
Other parts of the South, includingand , are also struggling with COVID-19 surges as their remain below 50% of their populations.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending masks be worn indoors in places withor test positivity rates, which is currently about 80% of all U.S. counties.
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Karl Minges, the interim dean of the school of health sciences at the University of New Haven, said it's time for the majority of Americans to get back to early pandemic basics, no matter their vaccination status: Wear a mask, especially indoors; socially distance; and hand-sanitize. He said to try to continue most activities outdoors, whether eating or attending a concert, and be aware of how crowded it may be and what the COVID-19 positivity rate is for the area.
"The goal is to not return to the precautions of 2020, and that is unlikely the more people who become vaccinated," Minges added.
On Tuesday, New York City became thefor indoor activities at restaurants, gyms and performance spaces, with full enforcement coming in September. While about 55% of the city's population is fully vaccinated, the rate of new vaccinations has leveled off in recent months, and about 72% of tested cases of the coronavirus have been attributed to the delta variant, city health data show.
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The Kroger supermarket in Yorktown, Va., is in a county where mask wearing can be casual at best. Yet for months, the store urged patrons to cover their noses and mouths, and almost everyone complied. “People don’t like to wear masks here,” said Janet Wainwright, a meat cutter at the store, “but very few people would go without it.” That changed in mid-May after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised vaccinated Americans that they could go maskless in most indoor settings. The next week, the store told employees that they could no longer ask customers to cover their faces. So mask use plummeted, and the anxiety of Ms. Wainwright and other workers shot up.
While many Broadway shows are still eyeing returns in September, major events are being scrapped because of the delta variant's rise. The 2021 New York International Auto Show at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in midtown Manhattan, which can draw about 1 million people, was canceled Wednesday, just two weeks before it was scheduled to start.
Elsewhere, it's business as usual:, and major festivals like Lollapalooza, which was in Chicago over the weekend and attracted hundreds of thousands of attendees, are going on as planned.
Attending an outdoor concert in small social bubbles if you are vaccinated and unmasked is OK and should be up to a person's comfort level, said Dr. Emily Landon, executive medical director for infection prevention and control at the University of Chicago Medical Center.
But that social setting is not the same as attending a large-scale event like a music festival where people are smushed together. The problem, Landon said, is the delta variant is more contagious than earlier forms of COVID-19, and at outings where large groups of people are interacting within a 6-foot radius, the window of time needed to transmit the virus is smaller.
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Covid-19 numbers are dropping, and vaccinated Americans are safely enjoying mask-free life. But most Americans aren't fully vaccinated -- threatening short-term consequences for themselves and long-term consequences for the country. "We're definitely going in the right direction. And I think if we can fully vaccinate the American people into the summer, then I think we can look at a really high quality of life," said Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.But unvaccinated Americans are still vulnerable to Covid-19, long-term complications and big medical bills.
"Before you had toinside your 6-foot radius; now you only need to spend a couple of minutes in there" for exposure, she said.
However, sporting events like a baseball game are different, she said, because people are typically socially distanced, may be wearing masks and often face outward, and even if they're waiting in a line, they're not bunched up in crowds like at a music festival.
Experts say masks are especially important if you're going to be around people whose vaccination statuses are unclear and you can't keep your distance.
"You probably could have gotten away with not getting masked in a workplace if everyone was vaccinated pre-delta," Hassig said. "But delta is different."
Hassig also suggested that people consider enforcing masks again for weddings and parties, even if they're outdoors, if there are no vaccination requirements and people are socializing in close proximity.
"You may have medically vulnerable people coming, and it's only reasonable to think about what you need to do so that Granny doesn't catch coronavirus," she said.
COVID-19 testing also should be utilized if someone is feeling sick or may have been exposed, experts say. Some employers, like big tech companies and government agencies, willfollowing months of working from home, and in some cases, those who refuse will be subject to regular testing.
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It won’t hurt to remain cautious, even as the U.S. reopens for business in response to mass vaccinations and diminishing cases of covid.For more than a year, public health officials have repeatedly told us that masks save lives. They’ve warned us to keep our distance from our neighbors, who’ve morphed into disease vectors before our eyes.
Landon said fully vaccinated people don't need to get tested regularly but should if they have symptoms of COVID-19 or were exposed to someone who tested positive.
The CDC suggests fully vaccinated people get tested three to five days after exposure, even if the vaccinated person has no symptoms because they could be asymptomatic. So-called breakthrough cases of COVID-19 in which vaccinated people can get infected remains, health officials say, and is not a failure of vaccines.
Thewere devised "to ensure the vaccinated public would not unknowingly transmit virus to others, including their unvaccinated or immunocompromised loved ones," CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said last week.
Hassig also suggested testing if you're going to be amid a large gathering where you don't know vaccination statuses — similar to what people were doing last summer when COVID-19 vaccines were unavailable.
Ultimately, because standard COVID-19 tests cannot specify whether someone has the delta variant, experts say it's safe to assume that if you test positive, you have the strain.
"That genie is out of the bottle," Hassig said, "and unfortunately, it's a really nasty one."
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Oahu adds additional requirements to ding out: Everything you need to know about visiting Hawaii now .
Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information. Hawaii is again adding restrictions after desperate pleas from both state and local officials, who are intensifying calls for visitors to reconsider travel to Hawaii to combat the highly transmissible delta variant of the coronavirus. While they are adding new caps and anti-coronavirus …Hawaii is again adding restrictions after desperate pleas from both state and local officials, who are intensifying calls for visitors to reconsider travel to Hawaii to combat the highly transmissible delta variant of the coronavirus.