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Virologist agrees with CDC on easing mask restriction for vaccinated people

Vaccinations being distributed at Seattle's Lumen Field site. (MyNorthwest photo)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that fully vaccinated people in the United States no longer need to wear masks outdoors in small groups, when biking or running alone, and when dining outside. There are also a few times when unvaccinated people don’t have to wear a mask either. But as cases in many parts of the country are going up, why is the CDC doing this now?

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“Well, I think it’s for a couple reasons,” said Dr. Angela Rasmussen, virologist and frequent guest of the Gee and Ursula Show. “One is that’s, really, what the data shows us, … that even people who are not vaccinated are much less likely to be exposed to SARS-CoV-2 in an outdoor environment. The risk of transmission is not zero outdoors, but it is reduced significantly. If you are vaccinated, fully vaccinated, then you are really, really protected when you are in those outdoor environments.”

“And second of all, I think that it’s good that the CDC is cautiously lifting more and more restrictions for people who are vaccinated, both because the science continues to show that these vaccines are very safe and very effective, and we should be incentivized to get vaccinated because it does allow us to return to what I think many of us would call quote unquote ‘normal’ way of living our daily lives,” she added.

Masks are still recommended in indoor settings and in crowded spaces or when someone — vaccinated or not — is around a lot of strangers, including at outdoor stadiums.

Why states with less restrictions seem to be doing better

With Washington now approaching another potential rollback for some counties on May 3, people have wondered why states that have reopened or relaxed mask mandates and reopened businesses, like in Texas and Florida, are doing better than Washington in terms of COVID-19 case numbers.

Dr. Rasmussen explains that it’s not just one reason why this trend may be happening.

“It’s not just as simple as lifting restrictions because people in Texas, people in Florida are different than people in Washington,” she said. “We live in different communities. Our communities are comprised of different people who are at different risk levels. For COVID, we have different amounts of COVID circulating, not just statewide, but in various communities.”

“We also have different weather that allows us to do different behavior. In Florida and Texas, for example, people are able to be outdoors, especially earlier in the year, a lot more frequently than they are in western Washington certainly, and eastern Washington, where it’s much colder and much less pleasant sometimes to go sit at a café for hours and hang out with your friends,” she added.

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So it’s not just a mask mandate, or just restaurant capacity, or even how many people engage in these activities that drives case numbers.

“There are so many different factors that contribute to overall transmission within a community,” Rasmussen said. “We should be worried about our own communities, and less about what other states are doing. In Texas and Florida, I’m glad that they haven’t had as much of a problem, but in certain communities in Florida, for example, there have been increases in cases, it just hasn’t been reflected in the statewide data.”

“So people really do need to consider that. It’s not always just as simple as looking at total cases in a given state overall with regard to individual policies that that state may have,” she added. “These are much more complicated issues than that.”

Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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