CDC: York County residents, even the fully vaccinated, should mask up indoors

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
A man wears a U.S. flag face mask on July 19, 2021, on a street in Hollywood, on the second day of the return of the indoor mask mandate in Los Angeles County due to a spike in coronavirus cases. (Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

York County reached substantial transmission levels on Wednesday, a threshold at which mask wearing should resume indoors — even for fully vaccinated people.

“The transition of our transmission assessment from intermediate to significant is not something to take lightly,” said Dr. Matt Howie, medical director of the York City Health Bureau. “We’ve been quietly watching it.”

York and 27 other counties have substantial transmission levels, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Only Crawford County is deemed to have high transmission levels.

All of this comes at a time when the delta variant has fueled a surge of new COVID-19 cases across much of the country, and particularly in areas with low vaccination rates.

Those who are fully vaccinated can still spread the disease but are at much lower risk of being hospitalized or dying from it.

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In addition to the CDC's new masking guidelines, those two transmission levels meet the requirements for a two-month renewal of an eviction moratorium, which will now last through Oct. 3. The previous moratorium expired Saturday.

While the CDC viewed the moratorium extension as an integral step in protecting those impacted by the pandemic, updated masking recommendations paint a grimmer picture. 

Last month, speaking to reporters, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky called the new guidelines "not a welcome piece of news."

“It is not a welcome piece of news that masking is going to be a part of people’s lives who have already been vaccinated,” Walensky said. “This new guidance weighs heavily on me.”

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Maggi Barton, spokesperson for the state Health Department, said state health officials are recommending residents follow the new guidelines — although it is not required.

Even though the CDC's updated guidelines show increasing concern, the state Health Department has asserted it has no plans to re-implement a statewide mask mandate.

The federal mitigation efforts come as COVID-19 cases continue to surge nationwide, including in York County.

The county has seen 95 cases per 100,000 people over the last 14 days. That's an increase of 143.6% over the previous 14-day period, when there were 39 cases per 100,000 people.

It's also the highest 14-day case rate since June 6, when there were 99 cases per 100,000 people.

Statewide, Pennsylvania has seen a 173% increase in cases in the past 14 days, according to an analysis by The New York Times.

Health experts say the increase is largely fueled by the delta variant, the most contagious strain of COVID-19. The variant has led to an increase in breakthrough cases, or cases among those who are fully vaccinated.

It has also been shown that it increases the chances of a fully vaccinated person transmitting COVID-19.

In the region that includes Delaware, Washington, D.C, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia, 72% of samples contained the variant, according to the CDC.

Data at the state and county level are unavailable ut vaccination rates locally are also concerning to health officials.

"You have to actually take a look at the direction; the momentum if it were,” Howie said. “It’s a concerning pattern. We still have a significant amount of the population who are not vaccinated.”

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In York County, for example, about 48% of residents have been fully vaccinated, according to The New York Times. That falls below the statewide number of 53%.

As of Wednesday at noon, York County had 55 additional COVID-19 cases, bringing the total to 47,671 since the outbreak began, the state Health Department reported.

There were no new deaths reported, leaving the death toll at 838. There had been 168,955 patients who had tested negative for COVID-19, about 3.4% of the total 4,934,861 negative patients in the state.

Editor's Note: Graphs showing the number of daily COVID-19 cases and deaths for York County sometimes have different day-to-day totals than the numbers reported in The York Dispatch’s daily COVID-19 updates because of the way the data is reported to the state Department of Health.

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at lhullinger@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.