Mixed reactions to CDC's revised COVID mask mandate


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While states continue to relax COVID-19 mitigation measures, concerns about vaccine uptake continue.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC's) announcement that people fully vaccinated against COVID-19 do not have to use masks in most settings has prompted some states to drop mask mandates. Others, however, have said they need to take time to look at their state's specific COVID situation, and health experts, state and local governments, business owners, and the public have had similar guarded reactions.

"I wouldn't want to declare victory [over COVID-19] prematurely, but I'm saying this is clearly a step in the direction that we want to go," Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN's Jake Tapper.

At the same time, Fauci acknowledged that people such as store or restaurant owners will have to trust others to unmask responsibly. "They will not be able to know," he said. "I mean, you're going to be depending on people being honest enough to say whether they were vaccinated or not."

Fauci reminded CNN that while there will be no federally mandated vaccine passports, organizations such as colleges and businesses can require COVID-19 vaccination.

In light of the CDC's announcement, the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America (SHEA) released a statement yesterday calling for continued vigilance with COVID-19 mitigation practices. The authors write, "SHEA strongly cautions against relaxing transmission mitigation efforts including masking in communities with ongoing high rates of transmission and within healthcare settings," the latter of which still require masking.

State-by-state differences

Minnesota is one state in which mask mandates changed in light of the CDC's announcement. However, unlike states such as Oregon, Kentucky, Washington, West Virginia, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Illinois, Minnesota's new policy covers both the vaccinated and unvaccinated, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports. Minnesota health commissioner Jan Malcolm told Minnesota Public Radio that even though she would have preferred to keep a mask mandate for unvaccinated people, it's not feasibly enforceable.

The state had previously announced it would try to lift mask mandates by July 1 or whenever 70% of residents older than age 15 have received at least one vaccine dose; the Star Tribune notes that as of Thursday, the state has reached 60.9%.

Local governments and other institutions may set up their own regulations, and Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey has already said the city will continue indoor mask use, according to the Star Tribune. Some private businesses have also requested that people still wear masks.

States such as California, New York, Massachusetts, and New Jersey are conferring with public health experts on next steps, and officials in Connecticut, Colorado, and Vermont said that they would implement the CDC's new guidelines in the next few days, according to NPR.

Increased vaccine uptake needed

Yesterday, Johns Hopkins COVID-19 tracker tallied 38,087 new COVID-19 cases and 802 deaths. New COVID-19 cases fell in the country by 21.3% in the past week, with hospitalizations falling 11.4% and daily deaths decreasing by 10%, according to data from the Washington Post.

The CDC cited vaccine efficacy rates as one of the reasons mask mandates could be lifted, and an agency press release said that a new study published today in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report found that 500,000 US healthcare workers vaccinated with either the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine had 94% efficacy against symptomatic COVID-19 7 or more days after the second dose. Among those partially vaccinated (defined by the study as 14 days after their first dose or up to 6 days after the second dose), vaccine efficacy against symptomatic infection was 82%.

On the other hand, CNN points to recent CDC data that say only 46% of US adults are fully vaccinated, and an ABC News/Washington Post poll last month reported that 24% are "disinclined" to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

"If you haven't been vaccinated, wear your mask for your own protection and the protection of the people who also have not been vaccinated yet," President Joe Biden said in a Rose Garden address today, according to the Associated Press. While the US government will not enforce mask wearing on those not fully vaccinated, Biden said those people should get vaccinated and, in the meantime, continue wearing masks indoors.

Among those who have not been vaccinated, Hispanic adults are more likely than White adults to say they want to get a vaccine as soon as possible, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation yesterday. The results further emphasize the need for public health equity and continued targeted outreach.

In other news, the Biden administration said yesterday that, out of its $7 billion budget to expand the public health workforce, more than $4 billion would go to state and local health departments to support their COVID-19 needs, according to the New York Times.

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