CDC recommends masking in areas with high community spread and low vaccination rates

Published: Jul. 27, 2021 at 11:18 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced this week that vaccinated people should wear masks in areas with high community spread and low vaccination rates.

Only 34 percent of Mississippi residents are fully vaccinated. In Arkansas, it’s 36 percent and in Tennessee, 39%percent of residents are vaccinated.

Combine that with some of the highest COVID-19 transmission rates in the country, and the Mid-South meets the new CDC criteria to mask up indoors.

Inside Baptist Hospital in East Memphis, infectious disease expert Dr. Steve Threlkeld says they’ve gone from treating 16 COVID patients a month ago to 62 Tuesday.

“The Delta variant is a different army that we’re battling and our trajectory is problematic,” Threlkeld said.

Health leaders in Mississippi are worried too.

“Sadly, we are seeing that about 21 percent of our deaths are fully vaccinated,” State Health Officer Thomas Dobbs said during a special presentation Tuesday.

Dobbs says the deadly breakthrough cases are primarily in those over the age of 65 who have underlying medical conditions or are immunocompromised.

The situation is even more dire in Arkansas. The state ranks second in the nation for new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents, according to the most recent CDC data. Arkansas is also third in the U.S. for hospitalizations per 100,000 people and third for deaths per 100,000 residents. The Natural State is averaging 10 deaths a day from coronavirus.

To curb the spread and save lives, the CDC issued new mask guidance Tuesday.

“In areas with substantial and high transmission, the CDC recommends fully vaccinated people wear masks in public indoor settings to help prevent the spread of the Delta variant,” said CDC Director Rochelle Walensky

Local COVID-19 task force member, Dr. Jeff Warren, said with this new CDC guidance, we should go back to mask mandates in Memphis and Shelby County.

“I am really tired of wearing my mask,” Warren said. “I was really happy not to have to wear my mask. But in the past week, looking at these numbers, I have put my mask back on when I go into indoor places where I was not doing it three weeks ago.”

With the school year about to start, Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves said he will not mandate masks in school, despite the new CDC guidance. Tennessee Governor Bill Lee’s office also confirmed he has no plans to mandate masks. And it would take a change in state law to allow Governor Asa Hutchinson or local school districts to mandate masks in schools in Arkansas, though the state’s top doc recommends masking up.

“Masking in school is still a choice,” said Arkansas Health Department Director Dr. Jose Romero.

“Encouraging mask use by the students and by the teachers is one thing we can do now, even if we don’t have a mandate for the mask use in school,” he said.

The Shelby County Health Department (SCHD) says it is evaluating the new CDC guidance. The number one thing SCHD and all the doctors Action News 5 interviewed said you can do to stop the spread of COVID-19 is get vaccinated.

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