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Health & Wellness

Dallas County Health Director On Mask Mandate Changes: 'We're Not Out Of The Woods Yet.'

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Dr. Philip Huang says fully vaccinated people are safe in most settings, but the unvaccinated should continue wearing masks in public.

After a year of strict COVID safety protocols, the CDC now says fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear a mask in many indoor or outdoor settings.

Gov. Greg Abbott later banned mask mandates from local governments, public schools, and public health authorities in Texas.

Dallas County Health Director Dr. Philip Huang shared his concerns about all this KERA’s Sam Baker.

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS:

About The Change In CDC Guidelines:

I think there's really been sort of a mischaracterization of the CDC guidance or revision. It wasn't a lifting of the mask requirements because they still exist for people who are not vaccinated. It was more of saying the science showed it’s safe for fully vaccinated people not to wear the masks in particular settings out in the public.

It created a perception of the CDC lifting requirements for masks everywhere. My perception is that what got lost in the discussion is they're still saying people who are not vaccinated still need to wear masks. That's where there's the big disconnect with what the governor ordered. Because again, I think no one has said people who are not vaccinated don't need to wear masks.

Does Full Vaccination Mean No Chance Of COVID

The data shows the vaccines are extremely effective at preventing severe disease. But there's increased evidence that the vaccines are effective at preventing some variant strains that are circulating. And also the evidence showed that fully vaccinated people are very unlikely to have the asymptomatic infection and spread COVID-19 to others.

There's still the caveat that the people with immunocompromised conditions or immunosuppressive medications speak with their healthcare provider, because they may not have as much protection from the vaccine.

Places Fully Vaccinated People Should Avoid

The CDC guidance also said it did not apply to health care settings, jail settings, and homeless shelters. When traveling on planes, trains, buses, or other forms of public transportation or in transportation hubs like airports and train stations, fully vaccinated persons should still wear masks in those settings. They don't need to wear the mask indoors or outdoors, except for where there are laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace requirements.

Is The Governor’s Order Wrong Given Current Low COVID Rates In Dallas County?

We're still at the point where about 50% of those 12 and older have received at least one dose of vaccine. It's still in the 30s for people who are fully vaccinated. There's still a considerable proportion of the population that are not vaccinated.

We're not out of the danger zone. That's why everyone still needs to be cautious. It's not the time to just open everything up with no precautions.

Those Who Have Not Been Vaccinated Should Still Follow The Normal Precautions?


That's what the CDC guidance said, which is a good incentive also for people to get vaccinated. What they're saying, if you get that full vaccination status, then it's safe to do all these other things, which could motivate more people to want to get a vaccination.

RESOURCES:

Texas governor bans mask mandates by state's public schools and local governments

Interim Public Health Recommendations for Fully Vaccinated People

UT Southwestern detects first reported B.1.617.2 (Indian) variant in North Texas

Interview highlights were lightly edited for clarity.

Got a tip? Email Sam Baker at sbaker@kera.org. You can follow Sam on Twitter @srbkera.

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