CDC updates masking guidance, says vaccinated don’t need to wear masks outside
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS —There are now few outdoor settings where the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends vaccinated people still wear a mask.
Updated guidance released Tuesday laid out what activities fully-vaccinated individuals can do without a mask and when they should still don the most visible symbol of pandemic life.
The only outdoor setting where masks are suggested for vaccinated people is crowded outdoor events like a concert, parade or sporting event. Guidance still suggests everyone wear a mask when inside public spaces, but fully vaccinated people are not required to social distance.
The update from federal officials doesn’t change anything with local masking requirements as someone who is outdoors and cannot social distance is already required to wear a mask regardless of vaccination status, said Routt County Public Health Director Roberta Smith in an email.
The new guidance also states vaccinated people do not have to quarantine, be limited at work or get tested for COVID-19 after exposure to the virus as long as they are not showing any symptoms. These individuals should still monitor symptoms for 14 days following exposure.
“The more people that are vaccinated, the less our community will have to quarantine due to exposure, in addition to all of the other health benefits vaccination offers the individual and the community,” Smith said.
Guidance also states those who are vaccinated don’t need to be tested or self-quarantine in order to travel domestically, and they don’t need to test before traveling internationally unless the destination country still requires a negative test.
Lauren Bryan, infection preventionist at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center in Steamboat Springs, said it has been known for almost a year that people are at very low risk for transmission of the virus in outdoor, well-ventilated areas, and the updated guidance Tuesday was not groundbreaking.
“I don’t know that, honestly, being vaccinated should make a vast impact on that one,” Bryan said, referring to outdoor settings in well-ventilated areas. “It has always been a low-risk transmission setting, unless you are in this super tight group area.”
Unvaccinated people do not need to wear a mask outside, according to the guidance, if doing an activity with members of their household or if they are at a small gathering with fully vaccinated people. If that gathering includes unvaccinated people, the guidance suggests those people wear masks.
“I appreciated that they wanted the data to come in before making changes to the recommendations,” Bryan said. “I think their approach, while frustratingly slow for those of us who are living in the moment of it, is probably good science.”
In practice, Bryan said the vaccines have largely lived up to the hype created by high efficacy rates during clinical trials. As of April 20, there have been a little over 7,000 cases reported to CDC of someone contracting COVID-19 after being vaccinated among the more than 87 million people who have received a vaccine in the U.S.
“During that same time frame, there have been tens of thousands of people who have been infected (with COVID-19) who weren’t vaccinated,” Bryan said.
The CDC said this is likely an undercount of the actual number of these cases, often referred to as breakthrough cases, but still shows the vaccines are effective at preventing disease.
On a call with state health officials Tuesday morning, Bryan said they were told that in Colorado, people who are vaccinated are about 95% less likely to contract COVID-19 than those who are unvaccinated.
“No vaccine is perfect; these are great,” Bryan said. “When people look at the numbers like ‘Oh, there has been cases in vaccinated people,’ — duh, it is 95% effective, which is fantastic, but it is not 100%, and no vaccine ever will be.”
Most of the breakthrough cases that have been seen are in older people whose immune systems are often not as strong, a trend that has been seen with all vaccines, not just this one, Bryan said.
Smith said Routt County Public Health is still strongly encouraging everyone who is eligible to get the vaccine, and it is holding clinics Thursday and Friday using the Johnson & Johnson one-dose vaccine. As of 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, there were still appointments available.
Colorado’s mobile vaccination buses will also make stops in Routt County at two locations in Steamboat Springs on Saturday, at the Routt County Fair grounds in Hayden on Sunday and at the Centennial Mall in Craig on Monday.
“It (the vaccine) is now widely available to all populations. I just encourage people enough to seek it out and get themselves vaccinated,” Bryan said, pointing out that the majority of cases in Colorado are the more-transmissible B.1.1.7 variant. “If it continues to mutate — that’s what viruses do — we could end up not being able to squash this thing.”
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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