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Compliance and challenge: States respond to new CDC mask guidelines

A handful of state and local mayors and health officials announced they would require vaccinated and unvaccinated residents to wear masks in indoor public places, in line with revised recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And some school districts have said they will implement the CDC’s recommendations for universal masking of teachers, staff and students.

But most state and local health officials have refrained from requiring the wearing of an indoor mask. Instead, they encouraged residents of areas where COVID-19 is spreading to wear masks in indoor public places as additional protection against the more contagious delta variant. Others said they were considering warrants.

In May, nearly all state and local jurisdictions lifted mask requirements for those vaccinated in response to the CDC’s recommendation at the time that fully vaccinated people did not need to wear face masks. inside.

The agency’s July 27 reversal for people vaccinated in high transmission communities was based on new scientific evidence that showed that vaccinated people can spread the virus, albeit at a much lower rate than those vaccinated. who are not vaccinated.

The change sparked more disagreements between Republican and Democratic politicians over masks and other pandemic-related public health precautions.

A handful of Republican governors criticized the CDC’s recommendations. The GOP governors of Florida, Georgia, Texas and South Carolina took their objection a step further, reiterating their opposition to mask mandates of any kind.

Meanwhile, the Democratic governors of Nevada and Hawaii have decided to reinstate or continue the mask mandates. Democratic mayors of Atlanta, the District of Columbia and Kansas City, Missouri, have also demanded that the mask be worn indoors.

Mayors of Birmingham, Alabama; Miami; Orlando; Salt Lake City; and Savannah, Georgia, reinstated the mandatory wearing of masks in public facilities.

Most Democratic governors have urged residents to adopt the new federal guidelines.

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New state laws cripple public health officials

But nearly all elected state and local leaders and public health officials agreed on one thing: more people need to be vaccinated to protect themselves from serious illness, hospitalization and death.

Criticizing the CDC’s latest mask recommendations, Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey said, “Public health officials in Arizona and across the country have made it clear that the best protection against COVID-19 was the vaccine. Today’s announcement by the CDC will unfortunately only diminish confidence in the vaccine and create more challenges for public health officials, people who have worked tirelessly to increase vaccination rates. “

Ducey this spring issued executive orders banning vaccine passports by local governments and telling state colleges and universities they couldn’t impose vaccine requirements on students.

In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio urged residents on Monday to wear masks, but did not issue a warrant, saying the focus should be on vaccines. “The main event is the vaccinations,” he told CNN.

Some public health experts fear that Americans who are already hesitant to get vaccinated may be further discouraged by the CDC’s findings that people who have been vaccinated can still spread COVID-19.

At the same time, local public health officials in parts of the country are reporting that vaccination rates have started to rise as the virus begins to reappear.

In Louisiana, for example, where new cases are on the rise and intensive care beds are at full capacity in most hospitals, state health official and medical director Dr Joseph Kanter said during from a press briefing that vaccination rates in the state had nearly quadrupled in the past two weeks. .

Nationally, new cases of COVID-19 increased 64% in the last week of July, according to the CDC. Hospitalization rates for adults aged 18 to 49 increased for the first time since April, according to the CDC, rising 40% in early July compared to late June.

And deaths from COVID-19 are on the rise again in nearly every state, fueled by the more contagious and potentially deadly delta variant, the CDC reported last week. Almost 67% of counties nationwide have COVID-19 transmission rates high enough to trigger wearing an indoor mask, according to the CDC.

Last year, the country’s main safeguards against COVID-19 were the wearing of masks and social distancing. Now that vaccines are available, public health officials universally view them as the first line of defense.

But less than 70% of all Americans eligible for vaccines received their first injection, and in many states, less than half of all residents are vaccinated.

In 16 states, less than half of all residents have received even a single injection of the COVID-19 vaccine. Mississippi has the lowest vaccination rate at less than 40%, followed by Idaho, Wyoming, Louisiana, Alabama, Tennessee, North Dakota, West Virginia, Georgia, South Carolina, Arkansas, Indiana, Oklahoma, Missouri, Montana and Ohio.

As COVID-19 cases began to increase in July, Los Angeles County, California, became the first local jurisdiction to reinstate a mask warrant. A handful of other counties in California and beyond followed. And the governor of Hawaii has decided not to lift the state’s existing mask requirement.

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But at least three states have passed laws this year banning mask warrants generally, including Arkansas, Iowa and North Dakota.

Three other states – Arizona, Oklahoma and Utah – have new laws that prohibit schools from requiring masks.

Last week’s CDC announcement prompted Republican governors in Florida, Georgia, Texas and South Carolina to double down on their opposition to the mask and vaccine warrants.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott in May banned mask warrants in schools. Last week, he extended the ban to all state and local jurisdictions. Likewise, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, who banned mask warrants earlier in July, has vowed not to impose a statewide mask rule or restrict any business and public activity. way either.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed an executive order that allows parents to ignore mask warrants in schools. And in South Carolina, Governor Henry McMaster tweeted that school districts could not implement mask mandates: “State law now prohibits school administrators from requiring students to wear masks.” The General Assembly agreed with me and this decision is now left to the parents.

Arkansas Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who signed a bill banning state and local mask mandates in April, took the opposite approach, calling a special legislative session to reconsider the law regarding schools.

Oregon Democratic Governor Kate Brown has called on the state health authority and the education department to create a rule requiring indoor masks for K-12 schools across the country. State.

Despite the Republican backlash to the CDC mask flipping, state and local health officials say the federal agency’s new guidelines are making their job easier.

“With this recommendation, the CDC said that local health agencies should make the decision and that not all jurisdictions have to adopt the same rules,” said Adriane Casalotti, head of public and government affairs at the Association. national county and city public health officials.

“In places where the local health department was prohibited from imposing masks or lacked the political will to do so,” she said, “having this new direction helps them make the necessary choices. to try to help everyone protect themselves and their families. . “

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Mary Cashion

The author Mary Cashion