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Q&A: What Does The New CDC Mask Guidance Mean For You?

A man walks past a mural on how to wear a face mask to prevent the spread of coronavirus, in Soweto, South Africa, Saturday, May 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)
A man walks past a mural on how to wear a face mask to prevent the spread of coronavirus, in Soweto, South Africa, Saturday, May 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

New CDC guidance says fully vaccinated people can now go maskless in most settings - outdoors or indoors.

Tim Shelley speaks with Dr. Steve Hippler, chief clinical officer for OSF HealthCare, about what that means for you.

DR. STEVE HIPPLER: The CDC suggests that if you're fully vaccinated, which means two weeks have elapsed since your second shot of Moderna or Pfizer, or two weeks have elapsed since your only dose of Johnson and Johnson, that at that point in time, fully vaccinated people are free to where to go without masks, outdoors, or in any indoor event.

Now, there's still some caveats that businesses can have specific requirements to require that it exempts hospitals. So we are in the process of understanding what that means for us as a hospital system. And if you're around immuno-suppressed or patients at high risk, that also would be a reason to wear a mask. And lastly, public transportation where it's required by federal law. So that's where it stands now.

TIM SHELLEY: Does that guidance or that announcement comes as a surprise to you?

DR. STEVE HIPPLER: I think the timing of it was a surprise. But if you look back for months, we've been vaccinating as a country at a great rate. And we knew that there would come a point in time where the vaccination rate would be up, the cases would be down and we would start to get to some semblance of normality. It's just a matter of when. So I think the timing of [the] announcement surprised me, but not that we are eventually at this place in time.

TIM SHELLEY: So if I am immunocompromised, should I still wear a mask even if I am fully vaccinated?

DR. STEVE HIPPLER: I think the other thing we need to remember is that the use of masks and the physical distancing and hand washing, essentially created a flu season with no influenza. RSV in kids was down to historically low numbers. So we know that these public health measures that were put in place have a tremendous benefit on all contagious respiratory illnesses.

So for patients who are immunocompromised or at increased risk, I would encourage them to talk to their physician understand what their unique risks are. And I would always recommend taking some measure of caution. Always. And trying to protect yourself if if you are at increased risk.

TIM SHELLEY: If I'm around kids a lot who are too young to get the vaccine, should I still mask up to protect them?

DR. STEVE HIPPLER: You know, a great question. We know that any of these vaccines are highly effective, but not perfect. That even immunized, persons can get COVID and perhaps may carry it.

The CDC recommendations come from the realization that younger kids and young adults are at much lower risk of severe disease and hospitalization. But again, it's not absolute. So you know, continue to wear a mask is not unreasonable in special situations. And again, to always handwash and try to distance and use common sense in large, tight, packed confined areas.

TIM SHELLEY: Doctor, anything else that people need to know, or you think they might want to know about this right now?

DR. STEVE HIPPLER: I think the real important message to drive home is for people who and adults who are not vaccinated to get the vaccine. There's been enough evidence of efficacy and safety right now that I think most people should feel comfortable getting the vaccine. Still only a third of the United States is fully vaccinated. And only 50% have had one vaccine.

Now, as we extend it to kids, those numbers will go up. But there still are a fair number of adults for whom they're eligible who have not yet been vaccinated. So I would encourage them to know the facts. I'd encourage them if they have questions, to talk to their primary care providers, physicians, and to really understand and consider and really, really get vaccinated.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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