Q: What is the CDC’s new mask guidance and how does it impact Pitkin County?
On July 27, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued new guidance recommending mask wearing for the general public in indoor public settings, including those who are fully vaccinated, in areas where there is substantial or high COVID-19 transmission. Based on CDC’s guidance and current COVID-19 incidence rates in Pitkin County (146 per 100,000 people as of July 30, 2021), Pitkin County is in the high transmission category. For this reason, Pitkin County Public Health strongly recommends that individuals ages 2 and older, regardless of vaccination status, wear a mask in indoor public spaces to minimize risk and maximize protection from COVID-19, including the highly infectious Delta variant.
A county’s level of transmission is based on two metrics: new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people and positivity rate, both measured over the last 7 days. Areas of substantial transmission are defined as 50 to 99.99 new cases per 100,000 people in the past 7 days, or a positivity rate between 8% and 10%. Areas of high transmission are defined as 100 or higher new cases per 100,000 people in the past 7 days, or a positivity rate of 10% or higher. If a county has values in two different transmission levels, then the CDC uses the metric that is higher.
Q: How and when are new Public Health Order requirements implemented in Pitkin County?
While Pitkin County Public Health encourages residents to follow the CDC’s recommendations, community members want to know when and how restrictions could be put back into place. To determine future requirements, CDPHE and Pitkin County Public Health are closely monitoring regional and local hospital capacities. The data is broken down by the regional hospital capacity as identified by the State for both ICU capacity and general bed capacity. If either the ICU capacity or general bed capacity for the region exceeds 85% or local hospital capacity is threatened, capacity limits and public health requirements may be reinstated for the community. (View hospital capacity data here) Additionally, because the Delta variant is more transmissible than other variants, protection against exposure is more important than ever, especially among those who are unvaccinated or too young to be vaccinated. Therefore, Pitkin County Public Health will continue to evaluate the need to implement requirements to protect those most vulnerable in our community.
Q: Where are masks required in Pitkin County?
Masks are required in certain, but not all settings. They are recommended in most. Per the State of Colorado Fifth Amended Public Health Order 20-38, masks are required for unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated patients, residents and visitors, and medical-grade masks are required for unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated staff, in the following settings that serve vulnerable or at-risk populations:
- Homeless shelters;
- Jails; and
- Emergency medical and other healthcare settings (including hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, urgent care centers, clinics, doctors’ offices, and non-urgent care medical structures).
Per Federal Orders, regardless of vaccination status, everyone who is 2 or older must still wear masks on public transportation, such as on buses, taxis, planes, and other forms of public transportation traveling into, within, and/or out of the country.
While there are no additional local mask requirements at this time, Pitkin County Public Health strongly encourages the community to mask up in indoor public settings and to take prevention actions and stay informed. Vaccination remains the most powerful tool to protect yourself and your family, increase community-level protection, and end this pandemic.
Q: What changed from 2 months ago when the CDC said vaccinated people did not need to mask?
- Delta variant is surging: it has quickly grown from less than 1% of cases in May to more than 80% now.
- Delta spreads about twice as easily from one person to another than previous strains of the virus.
- The CDC is constantly evaluating data and monitoring the science to determine what responses may be needed and given emerging evidence that some vaccinated people can get or spread Delta, the CDC is recommending people in substantial and high transmission areas consider masking, even if they’re fully vaccinated.
- Importantly, the vaccines can help prevent Delta from spreading even further. Most transmission happening around the country is among unvaccinated people and in areas with low vaccination rates. We need more people to get vaccinated to stay ahead of changes in the virus.
Q: Should vaccinated people worry they are spreading the virus?
- Vaccinated individuals represent a very small amount of transmission occurring around the country. Most vaccinated people are protected from the virus – breakthrough cases occur in only a small proportion of vaccinated people and the vast majority are avoiding serious illness, hospitalization, or death.
- If you get vaccinated, your risk of infection is ~3.5-fold lower, your risk of getting ill from COVID is over 8-fold lower, and your risk of hospitalization or death is ~25-fold lower.
- For example, some data out of Israel showed that as little as 13% of vaccinated people with a breakthrough infection were spreading the virus, with 80% not spreading at all.
- It’s important to remember breakthrough infections occur in only a small proportion of vaccinated people and of the breakthrough infections, transmission by the vaccinated appears to only be a small part of overall spread of the virus.
- But emerging science suggests some vaccinated people can be contagious if they get Delta.
- In areas of substantial and high transmission, CDC recommends that vaccinated people should wear a mask in public indoor settings to prevent spread and protect themselves and others.
Q: Does this mean the vaccines aren’t working as we expected?
- No. The 162+ million fully vaccinated Americans have a very strong degree of protection against the variants, including Delta. They are overwhelmingly avoiding severe illness, hospitalization, and death. Unvaccinated individuals account for virtually all the hospitalizations and deaths in the U.S.
- Despite seeing case numbers similar to the surge we experienced last summer, deaths are down more than 70% thanks to vaccination.
- This is further proof that getting fully vaccinated is the best thing you can do to protect yourself and those around you.
Q: If you are vaccinated but asymptomatic, can you spread the virus?
The CDC does not have data to inform the likelihood of asymptomatic spread among vaccinated people, but expect that it would be relatively low.
Q: Should people in high or substantial transmission areas be wearing masks at work?
Yes. The CDC recommends that employers should encourage vaccination and masking in areas of high or substantial transmission?
Q: Should I be more worried about variants like Delta?
- Variants are expected as long as transmission continues. Delta is more contagious than previous variants and cases due to the Delta variant are rising rapidly. Unvaccinated individuals should get vaccinated and continue masking until they are fully vaccinated.
- With the Delta variant, this is more urgent than ever. The highest spread of cases and severe outcomes is happening in places with low vaccination rates and among unvaccinated people.