Health officer: No new face mask orders expected in Ingham County

But a 'strong' recommendation to do is possible regardless of vaccination status

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TUESDAY, July 27 — Fully vaccinated residents in Greater Lansing aren’t likely to again be required to wear masks indoors, but a recommendation from health officials may be en route.

Reversing a decision made two months ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to recommend later this afternoon that people in “certain areas of the country” resume wearing face masks indoors regardless of their vaccination status, reports the New York Times.

But Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail doesn’t expect that will translate into a renewed mandate in Michigan or Ingham County — perhaps only “strong suggestions,” she said today.

“It won’t be a mandate, but we may be back to a new recommendation,” Vail told City Pulse. “I don’t know if the state will issue a mask mandate order or not, but I’m sure that we would also be on board with a strong recommendation. A mandate can be challenging at the local level.”

The shift in federal guidance reportedly follows a rising number of breakthrough infections with the Delta variant of the coronavirus among the fully immunized, as well as surges in caseloads in regions with low vaccination rates. Michigan — with a vaccination rate of 58% for ages 12 and up — has tracked a gradual upward trend that may portend a COVID-19 comeback with new cases at their highest point in six weeks, according to recent reports from Bridge Magazine.

The new federal guidance, however, is expected to take a targeted approach only in areas with “high” or “substantial” transmission risk, which accounts for 63% of U.S. counties, reports CNN.

In Michigan, only Branch and Dickinson counties have been flagged as “high risk” areas for COVID-19 transmission, according to the CDC. Hillsdale, Alpena, Kalkaska, Mason, Iron, Cass, Van Buren and Gogebic counties have also been tagged for a “substantial risk” of transmission.

Much of the rest of the state — including Ingham, Clinton and Eaton counties — are listed as a “moderate risk” for new cases of COVID-19. Ingham County (with a vaccination rate of about 59%) has only tracked about 112 new cases between June 20 and July 20, down from 198 cases found between May 20 and June 20 and 1,355 detected between April 20 and May 20.

Vail said the federal recommendations may pave the way for private companies to once again reinstate their own rules on social distancing and face coverings to combat community spread, but it’s not likely to take the form of any hard and fast new rules for fully vaccinated residents.

“It’s possible that we will be strongly urging mask wearing for all vaccinated and unvaccinated people indoors, but I just don’t see us issuing any orders,” Vail said. “Recommending? Maybe.”

She also plans on requesting that all county employees go back to wearing face masks indoors.

The Delta variant is now presumed to be the predominant form of COVID-19 now spreading in Michigan, though very few fully immunized people have reportedly been infected with the virus.

Out of 159 million fully vaccinated people, the CDC has only recorded 5,492 “breakthrough” cases of fully vaccinated people who were hospitalized or died from COVID-19 — about 75% of them also over the age of 65, according to reports from NPR. Recent research also reportedly shows that Pfizer vaccines are up to 96% effective against hospitalization from the delta variant.

About 97% of those hospitalized with COVID-19 are unvaccinated, according to the CDC.

The shifting federal guidance would mark a sharp turnabout from the CDC’s position since May, which was announced before the Delta variant began sweeping across the country. As recently as last week, an agency spokesman said there were no plans to change its guidance unless there was significant new data to support it, according to recent reports in the New York Times.

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