The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that fully vaccinated Americans take certain precautions while in public like wearing a mask and maintaining six feet of distance “until more is known” about the impact the jabs may have on the spread of coronavirus. While in private, however, the agency says fully vaccinated people can gather indoors without physical distancing or wearing masks with others who are fully vaccinated, and with unvaccinated people from one other household unless any of those people are high-risk.
Several states have since moved to rescind their mask mandates, while others report spikes in cases not seen since last year’s peak.
As recently as Thursday, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the agency’s director, said studies are ongoing about whether vaccinated people will need to continue wearing masks including while outside but added that the more people get the shot the clearer the data will become.
Tens of thousands of Oregon residents are angry about a proposal to make permanent an emergency rule that requires masks and social distancing in the state’s businesses and schools to prevent the spread of COVID-19. (AP Photo/Gillian Flaccus)
“We still have 57,000 cases of COVID yesterday, we still had 733 deaths and so now are really trying to scale up vaccination we have this complex message that we still have hotspots in this country and we will be looking at the outdoor masking question but it’s also in the context of we still have people dying of COVID,” Walensky told TODAY.
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One of the factors that need to be carefully looked at, one pulmonary and critical care physician told Fox News, is the impact the variants have on the vaccines. When the vaccines were developed, the U.K. variant, which is now the most frequently circulating strain of coronavirus in the U.S. according to the CDC, and others like the Brazilian and South African variants, were not a main concern, Dr. Iman Sharief said.
“Now we know that probably the vaccine will be effective against the variants, but they are still in the process of testing it in the lab,” Sharieff, who has treated thousands of coronavirus patients in California, told Fox News. “Obviously if we have to reprogram these vaccines or change it to be more effective, or have a specific vaccine against these serotypes, for those reasons they are not going to be able to give a green light in the sense that you can stop taking precautions and take the mask off or no need for social distancing.”
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Sharieff said that the risk of transmission between vaccinated individuals who don’t wear a mask while outdoors is low, but that he doesn’t see widespread mask use ending before 2022 for a number of factors. One of those reasons, he said is because it’s not yet known how long protection from the vaccine will last, and he has seen a few cases where vaccinated people do develop COVID-19 infection, although their illnesses were mild. Another is vaccinating children, a group that is known to transmit viruses but has not yet been approved to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
“My recommendation is to take all precautions at this time and we make changes in the precautions and loosening restrictions as we learn more about COVID-19,” he said.
He cited the variant factor as one reason why he continues to wear a mask while seeing COVID-19 positive patients despite having received the vaccine.
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“I’m a doctor and if I’m seeing a patient who has COVID-19 – I’m vaccinated – I’m still going to wear the mask because I don’t know what variant that person has,” he said. “Unless we have tested for this specific variant, we can consider it but to be safe until we have more data available it’s better to have the mask.”