The Washtenaw County Health Department is recommending all individuals wear a mask indoors, regardless of vaccination status. The recommendation, announced in a Wednesday press release, reflects an increase in cases in the county brought on by the more contagious delta variant. Masks are still not recommended in uncrowded outdoor spaces.
The Centers for Disease Control classifies Washtenaw County as having “moderate” spread, which falls outside of the agency’s mask recommendation for those who are fully vaccinated. In the press release, the health department said it expects the county to rise to the “substantial” level in the next week. The CDC defines substantial spread as between 50 and 100 new cases per 100,000 residents in the prior 7 days.
CDC officials released an update to the agency’s guidance for fully vaccinated individuals on July 27, recommending they resume wearing face coverings when in areas classified as having substantial or high community spread. This marked a change from their previous policy, which said fully vaccinated individuals did not need to wear masks in indoor settings.
The University of Michigan has not changed its guidance, which allows the fully vaccinated to go without masks in most campus locations. Masks are required for all in classrooms, on campus transportation, and in patient care areas. University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald wrote in an email to The Daily that the University is monitoring case counts in the region and said guidance from the health department is “critical.”
Washtenaw County Health Officer Jimena Loveluck justified the precautions as necessary to control what could become another wave of COVID-19 within the county, touting the potential of vaccines to stop the delta variant from becoming rampant.
“It is incredibly frustrating to be facing another wave of COVID. At the same time, we are optimistic that vaccinations will continue to be effective at preventing severe illness or death,” Loveluck said. “Vaccinations can change what we see in the coming weeks drastically – but only if we use them and all of our prevention tools effectively.”
The health department warned hospitalizations and deaths lag behind cases by a few weeks. While the delta variant can be contracted and transmitted by vaccinated individuals, the county stressed the vaccines remain effective at preventing severe illness. Almost all of Washtenaw County’s hospitalizations and deaths in recent weeks have been among the unvaccinated. Spread is fairly low among the vaccinated as well. The health department emphasizes vaccines’ primary purpose: preventing serious illness.
“Virtually all hospitalizations and deaths continue to be among unvaccinated individuals, locally and elsewhere,” the health department said. “The vaccine’s first job is to prevent serious illness or death. Some cases occur among fully vaccinated individuals, which is expected. Cases in vaccinated individuals tend to be mild.”
Currently, 69.4% of residents 16 and over and 57.4% of the county’s entire population are fully vaccinated. Individuals wishing to get vaccinated can visit the health department website to find the most convenient vaccination clinic for them.
The new guidance is not a mandate, and health department public information officer Susan Ringer-Cerniglia told The Daily in an email the county does not plan to pursue a new mandate.
“We are not necessarily planning to issue a local order mandating masking at a certain level (of community spread),” Ringler-Cerniglia wrote. “Ideally, there will be compliance with the recommendations. Obviously, we’ll be watching local activity carefully and determining what, if any, actions are needed.”
The press release urges residents to take the guidance seriously as case counts rise.
Summer News Editor Dominic Coletti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org