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CDC’s New Mask Guidance Includes McLean County Due To 'Substantial' COVID Transmission

In a reversal of its earlier position, the CDC is now recommending that some fully vaccinated people wear masks indoors if they live in areas with significant or high spread.
Rogelio V. Solis
In a reversal of its earlier position, the CDC is now recommending that some fully vaccinated people wear masks indoors if they live in areas with significant or high COVID-19 spread.

The CDC released new guidance Tuesday calling for fully vaccinated people to wear a mask in public indoor settings if they live in areas with significant or high spread. That includes McLean County.

The CDC move comes as the highly transmissible Delta variant fuels a surge in cases around the country, and multiple cities have reinstated indoor mask mandates, including in Los Angeles County and St. Louis. For weeks, many public health experts had been nudging the agency to change its policy, arguing that fully vaccinated people should wear masks in indoor settings, especially in areas where transmission of the virus is high.

McLean County is one of those places.

There is “substantial” COVID-19 transmission currently happening in McLean County and many other parts of the country, according to the CDC. New coronavirus cases in McLean County have tripled in the last two weeks, and Bloomington-Normal hospitals are starting to fill up again with COVID patients, according to the county’s health department.

McLean County recently moved into “orange” warning status, according to Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) data. The metrics that triggered warning status were the number of new cases (50 per 100,000 people over the week of July 11-17) and the number of people showing up to the emergency room with COVID-like symptoms.

About 48.5% of McLean County residents are fully vaccinated. That lags the statewide average (50.4%) of fully vaccinated people.

In addition, the CDC on Tuesday recommended that all teachers, staff, and students of K-12 schools wear masks, even if they are vaccinated. As the Delta variant spreads, particularly in areas where vaccination rates are low, kids remain unprotected against the virus. The vaccines are not authorized for children under 12, and many teenagers have yet to get vaccinated.

That new recommendations come as Unit 5 and District 87 in Bloomington-Normal have yet to announce their approach to masks for the fall.

IDPH announced it will adopt the CDC guidance after Gov. JB Pritzker had said he would review it during a news conference Tuesday afternoon.

Prior to Tuesday, Illinois had been following CDC guidance of the past two months that said unvaccinated individuals should wear masks indoors, but those who were vaccinated needed them only in certain settings, such as doctor’s offices and on public transportation.

Recently, the Illinois State Board of Education had fully adopted CDC guidance as well, which strongly encouraged but did not mandate, masks in schools.

But IDPH issued a news release later Tuesday saying it “is fully adopting” CDC masking guidelines, including recommendation for schools.

“While data continues to show the effectiveness of the three COVID-19 vaccines currently authorized in the U.S., including against the Delta variant, we are still seeing the virus rapidly spread among the unvaccinated,” IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said in a news release.

“Cases and hospitalizations due to COVID-19 both continue to increase, overwhelmingly among the unvaccinated, but the risk is greater for everyone if we do not stop the ongoing spread of the virus and the Delta variant. We know masking can help prevent transmission of COVID-19 and its variants. Until more people are vaccinated, we join CDC in recommending everyone, regardless of vaccination status, wear a mask indoors in areas of substantial and high transmissions, and in K-12 schools.”

Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.