Some resist masking up again

Some residents in the region say they will not return to wearing face masks despite rising coronavirus cases and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation this week to mask up.

The CDC announced last week that in areas of the country with substantial or high community transmission rates, fully vaccinated individuals should again don face masks in indoor public areas. Several area counties are listed as having substantial transmission of COVID: Butler, Clinton, Greene, Miami, Montgomery and Preble counties. Clark and Champaign counties are at a “moderate’' level of transmission, according to CDC data.

A Springfield News-Sun online poll of more than 1,400 people conducted on Wednesday and Thursday found that a slight majority (56%) of area residents say they will not wear masks again indoors in public.

Responses varied with geography. About 70% of respondents from Butler, Clark, Miami and Warren counties said they will not wear masks again. Meanwhile, slightly more than half of respondents from Montgomery and Greene counties said they will wear masks.

About 69% of the 122 Clark County residents who completed the survey said they will not wear a face mask.

Residents were conflicted about a potential return of mask wearing. Area businesses will remain unaffected for now, however; local health experts say it is unlikely there will be another mask mandate soon which businesses would have to enforce.

The Guidance

In its announcement Tuesday, CDC officials said they made this recommendation based on new information about the delta variant’s greater ability to spread among vaccinated people compared to other previous strains of COVID-19.

The Associated Press reported this week that an internal presentation circulated within the CDC said the delta variant is more transmissible than the viruses that cause Ebola, the common cold, seasonal flu and smallpox and that it as contagious as chickenpox. Vaccines remain highly effective in preventing serious illness, hospitalizations and deaths in vaccinated people, according to the CDC report.

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Due in part to the delta variant’s spread, coronavirus cases have been ticking up nationally and locally in recent weeks. Data released Thursday by the Ohio Department of Health put the statewide incident rate at about 77 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents during the past two weeks. Last week, the number was about 46.

The CDC recommended masks be worn in indoor public spaces even for vaccinated people in areas where there is substantial and high transmission rates. Areas with substantial transmission are those reporting 50 to 99.99 cases per 100,000 people in the last seven days. High transmission means a county has reported more than 100 cases.

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Credit: JIM NOELKER

What are local health experts saying

The CDC’s guidelines are a logical step given all that’s going on and could play an important role in mitigating the spread of the Delta variant, Clark County Health Commissioner Charles Patterson said.

“The Delta variant is a game changer for our country and how we’re dealing with COVID-19,” he stated. “We understand the guidance and we endorse it.”

The CDC’s new recommendations will be communicated to Clark County residents, but a mask mandate will not be put in place in the county right now, per Patterson.

Montgomery County was classified as an area with “substantial” community transmission rates. This label is indicative of a more serious problem, Montgomery County Public Health Public Information Officer Dan Suffoletto said.

“It’s not so much the category name in and of itself, it’s the conditions surrounding the category,” he said. “Presently, in Montgomery County, cases are rising, and they’re rising at a level that is not acceptable.”

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While Clark County has evaded the “substantial” label for community transmission to this point, they know they’re not out of the woods yet.

“We’re happy to be lagging behind, but we don’t really think that leaves our community out, we know that there’s still risk here,” Patterson said. “We hope to have people adopt good practices before the risk is higher.”

The county plans on reopening their Coronavirus Testing Evaluation Center, a facility which provides COVID tests for Clark County residents free of charge, in the near future, Patterson said.

The past 16 months have brought forth a myriad of mask-related recommendations of guidelines. Even amidst all this uncertainty, progress will continue to be made in the fight against COVID, Suffoletto said.

“We certainly understand it can be frustrating to everybody,” he stated. “The good news is that the medical professionals and the scientists are continually studying the disease, how it transmits and how people can best protect themselves. It is changing as we go forward based on the newest information.”

Even with case numbers on the rise, Wright State virus expert Dr. Dawn Wooley doesn’t think another mask mandate is the answer given the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine.

”At this point, I’m not in favor of mandating that vaccinated people should be wearing masks again. Certainly, everyone is free to make their own choice,” she said.

Unvaccinated people should continue to wear masks in indoor, crowded public settings where social distancing is not possible, Wooley said. Regarding medical and healthcare settings, it would be best for masks to be worn at all times as a precaution, she continued.

The fact that several area counties have been designated as areas of substantial community spread should encourage more people to go through the vaccination process, Wooley said.

“I think that should argue for people who are not vaccinated to seek vaccination. I still think our vaccination rates are too low to prevent community spread,” she said. “If enough people are vaccinated, it really cuts down on transmission rates.”

About 46% of the state’s population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

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Credit: JIM NOELKER

Credit: JIM NOELKER

How community members are responding

Area residents reacted strongly to the possibility of a return of face masks to daily life. Some would wear masks again in hopes of protecting fellow community members, while others aren’t so sure about whether they work.

One Clark County survey respondent, John Lawson, said he has continued wearing a face mask in public even after the mandate was lifted in June because too many people are unvaccinated. Lawson also said he would welcome the return of the statewide mask mandate.

“I have kidney disease and don’t want to tempt fate by getting the delta variant,” Lawson said.

Another local respondent, Maureen McCormick, said, “if wearing a mask helps me and/or other people, I am willing to do whatever it takes.”

Monica Yost said she will not start wearing a mask again.

“I followed all of their rules, wore masks, social distancing, used hand sanitizer until my hands were raw,” she said. “I was infected with COVID and nearly died. I’ve had the vaccine and that is it. I will not wear a mask.”

Terry Mckinney of Clark County said he will also not wear a mask again.

“I’m tired of government control and their flip flopping,” he said.

Leah Trebil of Greene County is a mother of one with a second child on the way. She’s a dental hygienist and has received vaccine administration training as a result of her work with the Ohio Medical Reserve. She’s concerned for the safety of the children of the community and would be willing to start wearing a mask again for their sake.

“These children have a very limited safety net, so I think it’s all of our responsibility to keep them safe and healthy,” she said. “If wearing a mask and social distancing is that key and is that safety net, I think it’s kind of a no-brainer to take those precautions.”

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Cloth face masks are effective in blocking a majority of respiratory droplets that carry the coronavirus and are effective tools in decreasing community spread of COVID-19, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Credit: JIM NOELKER

When Ohio’s mask mandate was in place and case numbers were soaring, area residents overwhelmingly wore face coverings at stores, a November investigation by this newspaper found. Observations of nearly 2,000 customers at over 100 stores in four counties found that only about 3% of people were not wearing masks.

Since the mask mandate was lifted in June, mask wearing has fallen out of fashion locally. Only 19% of respondents to our online survey this week reported wearing a face mask in public regularly since the mandate was lifted.

What does this mean for local businesses?

Businesses in the region were significantly impacted by the onset of the pandemic. However, the new CDC guidelines are unlikely to result in any major changes in operations, according to Dayton Chamber of Commerce Director of Marketing Holly Allen.

“I would say going forward, businesses will likely continue to make the best decision for their business and for their customers,” Allen said. “So, I don’t see anything changing for most of our businesses in the future.”

With no third-party mandates currently in place, area businesses will continue to adjust their strategies as they see fit, an approach the Chamber supports, Allen stated.

“In any situation, the Chamber of Commerce’s stance is that we would like to see decisions left in the hands of the business owners, so they can do what they think is best for their business, for their employees and for their customers,” she said.

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To that end, it is unlikely that the CDC’s new recommendations will bring significant economic change in the region, Allen said.

“(Businesses) are continuing to move forward, and our economy has been moving forward really well,” she said. “So, I don’t anticipate any changes.”

At this time, Montgomery County Public Health does not plan on issuing a new set of recommendations regarding mask-wearing to any Dayton local businesses. Clark County is currently putting together a notice explaining the new CDC guidelines that will be distributed to the Chamber of Commerce, per Patterson. It will be emphasized that there are currently no plans for a mask requirement to be implemented, Patterson said.

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