Graham Kilmer

Officials Urge a Return to Mask Wearing

Dangerous Delta variant leads to rising cases. Local officials recommend masks at indoor public places.

By - Jul 27th, 2021 04:43 pm
Mask. Pixabay License Free for commercial use No attribution required

Mask. (Pixabay License).

Public health officials are asking residents to once again wear masks when they are inside public spaces.

At a joint city-county media briefing Tuesday, Mayor Tom Barrett said that Milwaukee residents should begin wearing masks — once again — when they are indoors in public places. The city is not planning to issue a new mask mandate, the mayor said, but, “We certainly have the hope that Milwaukeeans will embrace masks once more.”

This is in line with the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which says that everyone, regardless of vaccination status, should wear a mask when indoors in areas experiencing substantial or high transmission.

The number of daily new cases of COVID-19 has been rising quickly in Milwaukee in recent weeks. This trend is also happening statewide and across the country. As Urban Milwaukee has reported, public health officials are attributing the cause of this latest surge in cases to the highly transmissible Delta variant.

Delta has been the dominant variant in the U.S. since June, and it poses a risk, especially to the unvaccinated, that is more severe than previous variants of the disease.

Dr. Ben Weston, director of medical services for the county, explained during the briefing that the variant has been shown to produce approximately 1,200 times more virus in the body of an infected person than the original variant that hit the U.S. more than a year ago. On top of this, he said, it also appears the virus has adapted such that it actually requires less virus to infect a person.

In the city of Milwaukee, the latest COVID-19 data indicates there is substantial transmission of the disease occurring. The positivity rate, which measures the percentage of tests that come back positive for COVID-19 indicates moderate transmission.

Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley also encouraged residents, whether vaccinated or not, to wear a mask. The county executive also said that masking policies are being tightened for county employees. County employees will soon have to wear a mask at work whether they are vaccinated or not.

Dr. Weston and others reiterated that the best defense against COVID-19 for individuals and the community at large remains vaccination. It’s true, he said, that the vaccines are less effective against the Delta variant. But they’re still very effective at preventing disease, and even more effective at preventing death or hospitalization.

Local elected and public health officials continue to advocate for vaccination. Crowley said efforts to reach the unvaccinated population will continue, especially “as we see this Delta variant rear its ugly head.”

The variant is leading to “breakthrough” cases of COVID-19 among vaccinated individuals. Milwaukee Brewers Outfielder Christian Yelich recently tested positive for COVID-19 despite being fully vaccinated.

These breakthrough cases are one of the reasons the CDC has changed its guidance on masking. The other reason is that a significant portion of the population, approximately 50% in Milwaukee County, remain unvaccinated. Children under the age of 12 are still not eligible for the vaccine. 

More about the Coronavirus Pandemic

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Categories: Health, MKE County, Weekly

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