President Biden is expected to announce Thursday, July 29, that all federal employees must be vaccinated or submit to rigorous COVID testing. That would include members of the military. The White House Office and Management already announced an employee mask mandate in all federal buildings.
The announcement would come the same day that Gov. Roy Cooper is slated to give COVID-19 status update press conference at the N.C. Department of Public Safety, the day before the statewide mask mandate is slated to expire. On Tuesday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control changed course, returning to a recommendation of requiring masks to be worn indoors, even for vaccinated people. The CDC also said that children and employees in K-12 schools should wear a mask indoors regardless of vaccination status.
That announcement is raising questions on whether Cooper will also reverse his decision made last week to allow individual school districts to decide on mask mandates for their own communities. The CDC’s new mask guidance is being criticized as counterproductive.
“The truth is that masks don’t do for you what the vaccine does,“ said Dr. Marc Seigel of NYU Medical Center. “The people who really need masks are the unvaccinated, not the vaccinated because the vaccine works.”
Seigel says that blanketing the American people, even the vaccinated, with a mask mandate runs the risk of violating civil liberties and does not stop viral spread effectively. The CDC says masks will slow spread until more people are vaccinated. In North Carolina, 84% of those over age 65, those with the highest risk, are vaccinated.
“These vaccines operate really well in protecting us from severe disease and death, but the big concern is that the next variant that might emerge — just a few mutations potentially away — could potentially evade our vaccines,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said in a telebriefing for media Tuesday, referring to more infections from the Delta variant of the COVID infection.
So far, the vaccines are proving effective as the virus mutates, and not all mutations are dangerous. A Public Health England study found that two doses of Pfizer’s vaccine were 88% effective at preventing Delta variant infection, compared to 95% prevention against the original COVID “Alpha” strain.
With North Carolina’s mask mandate set to expire Friday, Cooper staff and state health leaders are reportedly studying the latest data, which include an 84% vaccination rate for North Carolinians over age 65, and 55% vaccination for those over 12 years old.
Children are less likely to have severe symptoms from COVID, even with the new, more contagious Delta, variant. According to the CDC, there is a .26% mortality among infected children, and 1.3% of infected children are hospitalized. There is not a vaccine approved for children under 12, although Pfizer and Moderna have expanded the number of children in their vaccine study after the Food and Drug Administration asked them to study the rate of myocarditis as a vaccine side effect in people under 30.
“If you compare covid deaths among children this year compared to flu deaths in prior years, it’s about twofold more,” said Walensky on CBS This Morning on Wednesday. “While children are not getting nearly at the rate that adults are, they are getting more sick than they did during a normal flu season.”
The low complication rates among children have led many parents to petition their local school boards to leave masking optional in the classroom and leave that decision up to parents and family members.
So far Cabarrus, Caldwell, Catawba, Cleveland, Lincoln, Mooresville, Rowan-Salisbury, and Union counties have all decided to make masking an individual choice for the coming school year. Watauga and Anson counties voted to require them. Mecklenburg County and Wake County, N.C.’s largest school districts, have not voted on the issue with Mecklenburg scheduled to discuss it on Friday.