St. Louis County health officials are urging residents to mask up while in indoor public settings and even while at large outdoor gatherings when social distancing is not possible regardless of vaccination status amid a surge in COVID-19 cases. The update, posted Monday, follows an advisory issued July 1 warning about increases in community transmission due to the Delta variant.
The official guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has remained that vaccinated individuals do not need to wear a mask while indoors, or while in large gatherings. However, amid the variant spread, Dr. Anthony Fauci has been pressed on whether the guidance will change.
“When I was asked a question about wearing masks when you are vaccinated – and the question that was ‘If you would go to a place with a high degree of viral dynamics and a very low level of vaccine, what you might do?’ And I underscored ‘might,’ and that is the discretion that people have, even if you are vaccinated,” he said in a White House briefing last week.
“For example, if you are an elderly person or if you have a person with an underlying disease, you might want to go the extra mile of protection of wearing a mask if you are indoors in an environment with a high degree of infection in the community and a low level of vaccination,” he said. “That is not a mask recommendation; that’s just for consideration of each individual has their own level of the risk that they would like to take.”
Still, he emphasized that if you are vaccinated, “you have a very high degree of protection and therefore you do not need to wear a mask.”
St. Louis County is currently averaging about 100 cases per day, according to the news release. Part of the reason, the officials warned, is due to transmission among children.
“We are very concerned about the health and wellness of children in the region,” the update stated. “Children are transmitting COVID-19 to each other much more easily now than they were last year. In the last month, we have seen multiple outbreaks in daycares and camps that are largely driven by unvaccinated adults transmitting the disease to children, then children transmitting among each other.”
Health officials also voiced concern over potential overlapping symptoms, stating that people infected with the Delta variant may be more likely to have traditional cold symptoms, which could be confused with RSV, another illness currently spiking. They advised anyone, regardless of vaccination status, to get tested if they develop cold symptoms. Dr. Jay Butler, deputy director for infectious diseases at the CDC, said studies are ongoing to determine if the variant causes any different illness.
“It’s harder than ever to guess if your symptoms are from COVID-19,” officials said. “Immediate testing and staying home, even if you have mild symptoms, is key to stopping the spread of illness.”
Officials urged people who haven’t yet been vaccinated to get their shot and to protect children under 12 who are not eligible for vaccination from potential exposure.
Missouri has become a hotspot in recent weeks, as federal health officials voiced concerns over low vaccination rates in communities. The White House sent a ‘surge response team’ to the state to help assess the situation, as some hospitals report more COVID-19 patients now than they had during the winter peak.
“Not only are cases continuing to rise, but they’re rising faster,” Aaron Schekorra, public health information administrator for the Springfield-Greene County Health Department said, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.