Marion County Health executives recommend that everyone in the Indianapolis area re-mask indoors in light of federal recommendations that both vaccinated and non-vaccinated individuals should wear face-covering sites with high COVID-19 transmission.
“This is especially important for those living with someone who is at higher risk for COVID-19 complications,” said Dr. Virginia Caine, director and chief medical officer of the Marion County Public Health Department to IndyStar Tuesday afternoon. “Many of us are tired of this virus, but this virus is not tired of us and it does not seem to be going anywhere.”
Referring to an increase in cases and declining vaccination rates, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made the recommendation during a Tuesday news conference and revised guidance issued by the agency on 13 May.
The updated guidelines also recommend that everyone wear a mask in K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status.
Caine said that if the vaccinated Marion County residents are unsure whether to take a mask in a situation, they must first ask themselves the following questions:
- Am I in the same room as potentially unvaccinated individuals?
- Is it an indoor space?
- Do I or someone I live with have a higher risk of getting complications due to COVID-19?
- Is the county’s current rate at an orange or red level according to the CDC?
Caine said that if you answer yes to three out of four of these questions, you should wear a mask, whether you are vaccinated or not. One is already a “yes” for all Marion County residents, as the CDC has the county in the orange or “significant” risk level as of Tuesday afternoon.
Caine went on to say that while the guideline is only a recommendation for now, the possibility of again making masks mandatory remains on the table if the numbers continue to move in the wrong direction.
“If there’s one thing we’ve learned about this virus over the last 16 months, it’s protecting our society is a moving target,” she said. “So we will continue to closely monitor our local data, look at what is happening with national trends, look at this recent action by the CDC, and we will try to stay in touch with our city council.”
The Indianapolis City-County Council voted June 7 to revoke Marion County’s mask mandate to be fully vaccinated. The change took effect June 8 in most places in the Indy metro area.
Caine noted that the increase in cases is not unique to Indiana, but is happening across large parts of the country.
In addition to Marion County
When contacted via email, Indiana State Department of Health officials said they will review any updates to the CDC’s guide when it becomes available.
Officials in Hamilton and Johnson counties said they have not adjusted their local mask mandates, but would do so if ordered by government Eric Holcomb.
“Johnson County is not as heavily vaccinated as other parts of the state. We would very much like to see our numbers increase,” said Betsy Swearingen, director of the Johnson County Health Department.
According to the Indiana State Department of Health, Johnson County has a vaccination rate of 55,057 fully vaccinated individuals per year. 100,000 inhabitants. It is slightly higher than the 51,690 per. 100,000 in Marion County, but lower than the 70,110 per. 100,000 reported in Hamilton County.
Across the state, 50.4% of Hoosiers aged 12 and over are fully vaccinated.
However, Johnson County does not intend to mandate anything more stringent than the recommendations that have come from the state and the CDC, Swearingen said.
“We know, of course, that no one will return to it, but if that were the case, we would have no choice but to enforce an order placed by our higher ups,” Swearingen said.
Caine said the aggressive nature of the delta variant is the reason why even the vaccinated have to reach their masks again in most situations.
Dominant delta variant
Delta, also known as B.1.617.2, is one of the variants of coronavirus, which is the result of changes in the genes of the virus. When a virus replicates, mutations can occur in its genetic material.
The Delta variant is thought to be far more transmissible than the original strain of coronavirus. The variant is approx. 60% more transmissible than the alpha variant, which was already more easily transmitted from person to person than the original variant, according to the American Medical Association.
The state’s COVID-19 dashboard shows that 86.7% of the positive COVID-19 samples tested this month have been the delta variant. This corresponds to an increase of almost 46.9% from the previous month.
Only 3.3% of the samples tested have been the alpha variant, a decrease of 43% from the percentage a month ago.
The head of the World Health Organization called the delta variant “the most transferable of the variants identified so far.” Since the delta was first discovered in India in December 2020, the delta variant has been reported in at least 98 countries.
Caine also urges Hoosiers to get vaccinated, because if they contract the virus, vaccinating can lead to less severe symptoms and keep you out of the hospital.
Data collected by the Marion County Public Health Department indicate that only 1.5% of inpatients on site due to COVID-19 were vaccinated locally from January to mid-July.
“It’s the unvaccinated who die every day,” Caine said. “Do not wait to get sick and be hospitalized. Do not wait until you have severe breathing difficulties where you are so short of breath that you may be intubated … it is not time to ask for the vaccination.”
To find a place where you can get the vaccine near you, visit ourshot.in.gov, call 211 or visit most pharmacies.
USA Today and IndyStar reporter Shari Rudavsky contributed to this story.
Call IndyStar reporter Justin L. Mack at 317-444-6138. Follow him on Twitter: @justinlmack.