The Marion County Public Health Department took a cue from the United States’ top public health authority Tuesday when it urged all residents, vaccinated and unvaccinated, to wear masks in enclosed public spaces.
Department officials also suggested a set of yes-or-no questions that could help residents decide when masking is appropriate.
Two months after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that vaccinated Americans could stop masking, the federal agency on Tuesday reversed course for some situations, in light of “worrisome” new data.
As of Monday, the highly contagious Delta variant accounted for 86% of Indiana’s COVID-19 cases. That’s on par with the rest of the county: Eight in 10 sequenced samples are Delta, according to the CDC.
“In recent days I have seen new scientific data from recent outbreak investigations showing that the Delta variant behaves uniquely (and) differently from past strains of the virus that cause COVID-19,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said at a virtual news conference Tuesday. “… This new science is worrisome and unfortunately warrants an update to our recommendations.”
Vaccinated people with rare breakthrough cases involving the Delta variant could carry as much of the virus as an unvaccinated person with COVID-19, Walensky said.
Marion County’s health department seconded the new guidance Tuesday.
“Consistent with the latest guidance from the CDC, the Marion County Public Health Department recommends that all Marion County residents wear masks in indoor public spaces, regardless of vaccination status. This is especially important for those who are, or who live with someone who is, at higher risk for complications from COVID-19,” the health department said in a statement.
Also included was a set of questions vaccinated residents could use in deciding whether to wear a mask in any given situation:
- Is this an indoor space?
- Are there potentially unvaccinated people in this space?
- Am I (or those who I live with) at higher risk for complications from COVID-19?
- Is the current case rate in Marion County at an orange or red level according to the CDC?
If the answer is “yes” to at least three, the health department recommends a mask.
For now, one of those is an automatic “yes.” The CDC’s county-level COVID-19 data tracker shows that Marion County is currently in the orange zone, which indicates “substantial” community transmission for the week ending in July 25. The orange color ranking is for areas with 50-99 confirmed cases per 100,000 residents or 8-9.9% test positivity rates for the last week.
In fact, all nine of the counties that comprise the Indianapolis metropolitan area are considered “orange” or “red” (even higher transmission) zones.
The health department is urging holdouts to get better protection via vaccination, noting that just 1.5% of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Marion County were vaccinated. That means 98.5% weren’t.