The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced on Tuesday updated guidance about masks in light of new data about the delta variant.
“The delta variant is showing every day its willingness to outsmart us,” said CDC Director Rochelle Walensky on a Tuesday press call.
“In rare occasions, some vaccinated people infected with the delta variant after vaccination may be contagious and spread the virus to others,” Walensky said.
The CDC now recommends that in counties with “high” and “substantial” community transmission, all people regardless of vaccination status should wear masks while indoors.
Those are the highest of the agency’s four categories of community transmission, which are determined by new cases per 100,000 people over the last seven days and the positivity rate of nucleic acid amplification tests, which includes many common nasal swab tests.
For information about the CDC’s classification of Effingham County and other counties throughout the country, check covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#county-view.
Additionally, the updated guidance recommends that everyone in K-12 schools wear masks. This includes teachers, staff, students and visitors regardless of vaccination status. The CDC has not changed its stance on in-person learning for the 2021-2022 school year.
“Children should return to full-time, in-person learning in the fall with proper prevention strategies in place,” said Walensky.
These recommendations are based on recent CDC data about breakthrough cases and the delta variant, which represents eight out of 10 sequenced cases of COVID-19, according to Walensky.
Following the CDC’s announcement, the Illinois Department of Public Health adopted the same guidelines.
“We know masking can help prevent transmission of COVID-19 and its variants,” said IDPH Director Ngozi Ezike in a press release. “Until more people are vaccinated, we join CDC in recommending everyone, regardless of vaccination status, wear a mask indoors in areas of substantial and high transmissions, and in K-12 schools.”
On Wednesday, the governor announced that masks will be required for everyone in all state facilities regardless of vaccination status. State employees are required to wear masks when at work in indoors settings and maintain six feet of distance whenever practicable.
Locally, the Effingham County Health Department is following the lead of CDC and IDPH and signing on to these updated guidelines.
“We know people are frustrated,” said ECHD Emergency Preparedness Coordinator Karen Feldkamp. “We’re frustrated too.”
Feldkamp said COVID cases have been trending upward in recent weeks, with state officials telling her that cases have been doubling throughout the state.
CDC data shows there had been 34 cases in Effingham for the week ending on Tuesday, a 209% increase over the previous week.
“If you’re not vaccinated, you need to get vaccinated,” said Feldkamp.
“If you’re out and in an indoor setting, you really need to look at wearing a mask,” she added.
The CDC also called on community leaders to encourage vaccination and universal masking throughout the country. In Effingham, County Chairman Jim Niemann said he encourages voluntary masking.
“It’s my position that if the medical professionals are saying that, it’s probably a good idea,” said Niemann.
The county chairman added that he doesn’t anticipate a policy change to require face coverings in the county.
“I’m not gonna say we’re passing an ordinance or anything like that regarding it,” he said. “I think people should have a choice.”
Niemann added that, while he is deferring to the health department and public health officials, he remains wary of guidance coming from these agencies.
“We’ve gotten mixed information from the government,” he said.
Niemann added a mea culpa, acknowledging that he too is part of the government.
Effingham Mayor Mike Schutzbach shared a similar position to Niemann on requiring masks.
“I support wearing masks where the scientists tell us they can best support the situation,” said Schutzbach.
Still, citing Effingham’s status as a non-home rule city — meaning that the city can only create laws and regulations when explicitly allowed by the state — Schutzbach said he doesn’t anticipate a requirement coming from the city.
“We have not gone into that area as a city nor do I believe we will,” he said.
Schutzbach added that he encourages all people who can to get vaccinated, something that health officials also stressed when providing information about the updated guidance.
“People need to get vaccinated,” Schutzbach said. “We are in an area of low vaccination.”
The Effingham County Health Department is hosting free vaccination clinics on Aug. 3 for people 12 and older and Aug. 5 for people 18 and older. Interested people can register online at effcohealth.org and need to bring a consent form. The Effingham Public Library has computer access available to the community and will print the required forms for free.
For questions about the vaccination clinics, call the health department at 217-342-9237.
Vaccinations are also available for free through many local pharmacies, such as Walgreens, Wal-Mart and Andes Health Mart.
“There’s light on the other side,” said Feldkamp. “We just have to hang in there together.”