ATLANTA – The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) last week updated recommendations on the use of masks to control the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
Based on their study of fully-vaccinated persons over the past few months, the CDC has dropped the recommendation for those who are fully vaccinated to wear face masks.
Those who have not yet been vaccinated should wear face masks and maintain 6 feet of distance from others, especially in public places where they do not know whether or not unmasked strangers have been fully vaccinated.
The CDC continues to recommend all eligible Americans be vaccinated. COVID-19 vaccines are widely available free through pharmacies and health departments – in many places with no appointment needed.
“Fully vaccinated” means you completed your course of vaccination -- either one shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine or two shots of Moderna or Pfizer vaccines -- at least two weeks prior.
“Fully vaccinated people can resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance,” states the CDC advisory.
Stores and businesses continue to have the right to require customers wear face masks if the business owner so chooses, just as a business has the right to require customers to wear a shirt or shoes.
Why the change in guidelines? When vaccinations began, scientists theorized those who had been vaccinated could still contract the virus and spread it to others. Further study of target groups of the more than 156 million Americans who have been vaccinated have indicated vaccinated persons are unlikely to contract the virus, and those who do only have very mild symptoms.
Some vaccinated people may wish to continue to wear the masks, Dr. Anthony Fauci said May 13 in a press briefing announcing the new guidelines. “There are those people who don’t want to take that bit of a risk,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with that, and they shouldn’t be criticized.”
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has affirmed employers may require employees be vaccinated in order to return to the workplace, so long as they make allowances for medical or religious reasons. Employers can also continue to require masks be worn in the workplace.
Recommendations regarding COVID-19 precautions have changed throughout the pandemic as scientists learn more about the novel virus. Each time the CDC issues recommendations, the advise is based on the most recent research and data available. For example, at the start of the pandemic, scientists knew little about how the virus was transmitted. When research found it was most often transmitted from person to person in the droplets of moisture that leave the mouth or nose when a person talks, coughs or sneezes, they issued the recommended for masks to cover the mouth and nose and “social distancing” of 6 feet to prevent those droplets of moisture from landing on others.
What about children who are not old enough to be vaccinated? “Unvaccinated people age 2 and older should wear masks in public settings and when around people who don’t live in their household,” the CDC advises. Some schools have relaxed masking requirements leaving mask decisions up to the parents.
The CDC also advises those with other health issues that may compromise their immune systems consult with their doctors about appropriate precautions even if they are fully vaccinated.
Masks are still required on public transportation including airports, buses and trains. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) mask require extends through Sept. 13, 2021.
The change in masking rules does not mean the pandemic is over. According to the Agency for Health Care Administration, as of May 15, the number of residents hospitalized for COVID-19 included:
• Collier County: 52;
• Glades County: 0;
• Hendry County: 3;
• Highlands County: 20;
• Martin County: 12;
• Okeechobee County: 3;
• Palm Beach County: 196.
According to the Florida Department of Health, as of May 15, 9,436,587 Floridians have been vaccinated for COVID-19.
In South Central Florida, those who have received at least one dose of vaccine, and the percentage of adults vaccinated include:
• Collier County- 199,629 (62.3%);
• Glades County - 3,210 (27.2%);
• Hendry County - 12,473 (40.5%);
• Highlands County - 43,904 (49.7%);
• Martin County - 79,048 (58.6%);
• Okeechobee County - 12,674 (38.2%);
• Palm Beach County - 697,027 (57.5%).
As of May 25, 36,056 Floridians have died related to COVID-19. COVID-19 deaths in South Central Florida include:
• Collier County: 538;
• Glades County: 19;
• Hendry County: 83;
• Highlands County: 360;
• Martin County: 324;
• Okeechobee County: 89;
• Palm Beach County: 2,816.
Positive cases to date in Florida as of May 15 totaled 2,246,756.
COVID-19 positive cases in South Central Florida as of May 15 were:
• Collier County: 36,404;
• Glades County: 965;
• Hendry County: 4,786;
• Highlands County: 8,664;
• Martin County: 12,471;
• Okeechobee County: 4,060;
• Palm Beach County: 146,538.
Those who survived COVID-19 may have some immunity to the virus, according to health officials. But determining what percentage of the population now has some immunity is difficult for several reasons. Some people who had COVID-19 have also been vaccinated. Some people who were vaccinated in Florida were winter residents who are not counted in the census population. Some people who had COVID-19 had no or only mild symptoms, did not seek medical help and were not tested.
The CDC continues to recommend everyone wash their hands frequently (at least five times a day) and thoroughly with soap and water, or use hand sanitizer if hand washing facilities are not available. Not only will this help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus, it will also help prevent the spread of other viruses and bacteria.