Four-states health officials react to CDC’s new mask guidance

BARTON COUNTY/NEWTON COUNTY, Mo. – It’s time to pick your old face mask up again.

That’s what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says everyone should do indoors in parts of the country that are experiencing surges in covid-19 cases. That especially includes the four-state area, where the more contagious delta variant is rapidly spreading and causing high rates of hospitalization.

“If you are vaccinated and you are one of those rare breakthrough infections… you actually have the capacity to pass it to somebody else,” says CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky.

Citing new information about the variant’s ability to spread among vaccinated people, the CDC also recommended indoor masks for all teachers, staff, students and visitors at schools nationwide, regardless of vaccination status.

As of Wednesday, July 28th, it is now a requirement to wear a mask at the Barton County Health Department as well.

“It’s for the safety of our own staff and the people coming in here,” says Barton County Health Department Director Joel Dermott.

While the change was made the day after the CDC’s new guidance came out, Dermott says their policy wasn’t changed just because of the CDC’s recommendations. It has more to do with a startling trend they’ve started to see.

“We had been seeing some cases through contact tracing where we had breakthrough cases where people are fully vaccinated, and in doing that we were beginning to see some indicators that they were perhaps transmitting the virus themselves,” says Dermott.

Following the CDC’s new guidance, a rush of mask mandates swept through the country — with Kansas City and the entire state of Nevada reinstating their indoor mask mandates. KOAM asked Joplin Mayor Ryan Stanley if a new mask mandate may be in the works, and he says that a mask mandate is not something the city is currently looking at.

Also in Joplin, both Freeman Health System and Mercy Hospital have been requiring masks for staff and patients for several weeks. Steve Douglass at Access Family Care says they have been requiring masks in all of their locations since new guidance came out from OSHA three weeks ago. Tony Moehr at the Jasper County Health Department says they ask everyone to wear masks while inside the department, and the McDonald County Health Department has had a mask policy in place since March. No requirement exists at the Newton County Health Department.

“We are currently optional on masks,” says Administrator Larry Bergner.

Bergner explains that all of the staff at the health department are vaccinated, and they still maintain other safety protocols. So even considering the fact that the department has found 40 breakthrough cases in the county, at this point, Bergner isn’t concerned about virus spread at the health department itself.

“We normally don’t see a large client load at one time. We don’t have a packed building. Certainly, if we start to see folks come in and we have a large number of clients at one time and it’s consistently that way, we might reevaluate,” says Bergner. “We certainly don’t want those who are vaccinated to get the virus and become a carrier and give it to someone else. So I understand CDC’s stance. But I think that can also be a negative message for those who are on the fence. If you’re saying to get vaccinated, but then still wear a mask, what does that say about the vaccines?”

Pushing people who are vaccine-hesitant away from getting vaccinated is something that both Dermott and Moehr are concerned about as well.

“Is this gonna discourage somebody because they are gonna have to continue wearing a mask? I don’t know,” says Dermott. “We’ll have to see how that plays out and it will be very interesting to see in the upcoming days how this is absorbed by the general public.”

“My message is get vaccinated to prevent illness, hospitalization, and death,” says Bergner. “The thing that I want to stress is those folks who have been vaccinated and then gotten the virus, not one of them had to be hospitalized.”

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