Public health official says calling to reinstate mask guidelines is sending the wrong message

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WETM – The largest union for registered nurses in the U.S. called on the CDC to reinstate the mask mandate, regardless of vaccination status, as a result of an uptick in COVID in cases over the past week. A New York public health official says this is sending the wrong message to both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals.

In a letter sent to the CDC Director on Monday, the National Nurses Union (NNU) requested to reinstitute guidelines for all people to wear masks in public or in close proximity to others, outside the household. Steuben County Public Health Director, Darlene Smith, does not think this is necessary.

“That is not the messaging that we have been hearing in the past year, really from the CDC and the WHO… The science is not pointing towards those who are vaccinated needing to wear masks,” said Smith.

According to CDC data, the uptick in COVID cases in the U.S. has been up 16 percent in the past week, as well as rises in case counts in over 40 states. One of those states is New York, with a new daily case average up by 32 percent, in comparison to a seven-day average for the four weeks before. However, the positivity rate in New York is currently wavering around one percent.

The messaging of this request is what worries Smith, ” I don’t think it’s going to send the right message to either population those who aren’t vaccinated and those who are.”

For vaccinated individuals, she thinks that it would be taking away the benefit of not wearing a mask for those who have been following the guidance and acknowledging the importance of getting vaccinated. Unvaccinated individuals, who might already have concerns and hesitancy around the vaccine may be even more deterred from it if the perk of not wearing a mask is not there.

“It is going to certainly slow our efforts even more, dramatically, as far as getting the numbers of individuals vaccinated across the state,” said Smith.

Although the state of New York has achieved its 70% vaccination rate goal, counties in the Southern Tier, including Steuben, Chemung, and Schuyler are all around or below 50%.

In conjunction with that, Smith is strongly encouraging everyone to get a vaccine and follow the mandate. If there are individuals that are unvaccinated, the mandate is that they should be wearing a mask. Smith says the individuals in Steuben County are not following that rule.

According to Smith, “In the county, we’re only at about 53% of our population who is 18 and older who have been vaccinated, so that means we should be seeing about 50% of residents still in masks and that is not the case.”

Among the rising COVID-19 cases in New York, Steuben County currently has 14 active cases. According to Smith, all 14 cases are among unvaccinated individuals.

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