Tag Archives: Mask

C.D.C.'s New Mask Guidelines: Here's What to Know

More than a year after federal health officials told Americans to cover their faces when venturing out in public, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Thursday that fully vaccinated people could start taking off their masks indoors.

But the new federal guidance — announced amid a sharp decline in coronavirus cases and an expansion of vaccine eligibility to everyone 12 and older — came with caveats and confusion. And it sent state and local officials, as well as private companies, scrambling to decide whether and when to update their own rules.

Here are some questions you might have about what the C.D.C.’s new stance means, and what it doesn’t mean.

Not quite.

The federal guidance is expansive: Fully vaccinated people — those who have received their final Covid-19 vaccination at least two weeks ago — no longer need to wear masks outdoors or in most indoor settings. But there are limits.

The agency was not specific about masking in some settings, including schools. And even fully vaccinated people are still told to cover their faces when visiting health care facilities, while flying or taking public transit, and in congregate settings such as homeless shelters, as well as prisons or jails.

The C.D.C. advice does not override mask orders issued by states, counties or cities. But in the hours after the new policy was announced on Thursday, officials in some parts of the country began to adjust their rules to align with federal guidance. Others had yet to weigh in publicly, and some said they were keeping their rules in place while they reviewed the C.D.C.’s suggestions.

As the guidance filtered out around the country, officials began issuing announcements — a patchwork of plans, as so much of the nation’s pandemic response has been over the last year. Officials in Pennsylvania said they had changed the state’s mask mandate to exempt fully vaccinated people, and Gov. Andy Beshear of Kentucky and Gov. J.B. Pritzker of Illinois, both Democrats, indicated that they would do the same. The chief executive in St. Louis County, Mo., said he was also working to update local restrictions.

Elsewhere, including in Wichita, Kan., New York State, New York City and New Jersey, officials said they were reviewing the new guidelines but were not yet announcing any changes. In the counties that include Las Vegas and Lawrence, Kan., officials said they would discuss their rules at meetings next week.

The news stunned health experts, political leaders, business owners — and seemingly everyone else. Only two and a half weeks ago, the C.D.C. had given a far milder directive, saying that fully vaccinated people could remove their masks outdoors but not in crowded spaces.

“It feels like a huge shift, and I’m not going to follow it,” said Dr. John Swartzberg, an infectious-disease specialist and clinical professor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley’s School of Public Health. “The most important point is that the C.D.C. is putting responsibility back on individuals. Each individual should look at what the C.D.C. is recommending and see if that fits for them.”

Dr. Swartzberg said he would continue to be unmasked while outdoors but would carry a mask with him to wear indoors in public spaces. “This shows tremendous confidence in how well the vaccines work,” he said. “The C.D.C. does have data to support this decision. It’s not like they’re operating on the fly.”

It was not entirely clear what prompted the new guidance on Thursday. Cases, hospitalizations and deaths have been trending downward in the United States for weeks. About 37,000 cases are being identified each day, the fewest since September, and about 630 deaths are being announced daily, the lowest average since July.

But the most significant change is the availability of vaccines.

Everyone age 16 and older has been eligible for a vaccine for weeks, and those ages 12 to 15 became eligible for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine this week. About 47 percent of people in the United States have received at least one vaccine dose, and appointments are readily available across most of the country. Some public health experts said they viewed the new mask guidance, in part, as an incentive to entice those who have not gotten shots: Getting vaccinated would mean no longer having to wear a mask.

“We have all longed for this moment,” Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, the director of the C.D.C., said at a White House news conference on Thursday. “If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic.”

The new policy seemed to catch many retailers and their workers by surprise.

Macy’s and the Gap said they were still reviewing the new guidance, while Home Depot has not changed its current rules requiring customers and workers to wear masks in its stores. Other major retailers, including Walmart, did not immediately respond to requests for comment, while officials at Target said they would keep in place mask and distancing rules while reviewing the C.D.C. guidance.

The United Food and Commercial Workers union, representing thousands of grocery store workers, criticized the C.D.C. for failing to consider how the new policy would affect workers who have to deal with customers who are not vaccinated. And the Retail Industry Leaders Association, a trade group, said the policy complicated matters in states that still have mask mandates in place that retailers must follow.

You probably won’t. About 36 percent of people in the United States are fully vaccinated, and there is no way to tell them apart from the 64 percent of people who are not. People who receive a vaccine are issued a white paper card, but online scammers have sold forged versions of those.

The new guidance reopened discussions of so-called vaccine passports, which would certify someone’s vaccination status. Efforts to create a more robust system of such passports have been largely derailed in the United States by concerns about privacy and backlash from Republican politicians. New York State has created its own version of a vaccine passport.

At the very beginning of the pandemic, the C.D.C.’s position was that most ordinary people did not need to wear masks unless they were sick and coughing. At the time, there was limited understanding that the virus was airborne and could be transmitted by people who were asymptomatic, and there was also a concern that recommending masks would worsen an N95 mask shortage for health care workers.

But the C.D.C.’s position quickly shifted.

By April 2020, the C.D.C. urged all Americans to wear a mask when they left their homes.

The guidance kept changing throughout the pandemic. For example, the agency first said that wearing masks protected others, not the wearer. By November, officials went a step further, saying masks benefited the people who wear them, in addition to those around them.

With vaccinations ramping up, the C.D.C. began to loosen its guidance last month, advising that fully vaccinated people could remove their masks in many situations outdoors, where the virus spreads less easily.

Then on Thursday, the C.D.C. announced that the relaxed rules also applied indoors.

If you feel comfortable doing so, you can start going out without a mask on your face. But you might want to still keep one in your pocket.

Some local governments and businesses are likely to continue requiring masks, at least in the immediate future. And if you ride the bus or train, or are visiting a family member in a hospital or nursing home, you will still be expected to mask up.

Reporting was contributing by Michael Corkery, Tracey Tully, Dana Rubinstein, Sapna Maheshwari and Lauren Hirsch.

Author: Mitch Smith, Sarah Mervosh and Julie Bosman
This post originally appeared on NYT > U.S. News

Disney to increase park capacity; CEO hints that mask mandates could be lifted by summer

ORLANDO — Good news for Disney fans! Its California and Florida theme parks are already increasing capacity, and CEO Bob Chapek said he expects “an immediate increase in the number of folks that we’re able to admit into our parks.”Chapek shared this news on the company’s second-quarter earnings call Thursday, around the same time the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that it is easing mask-wearing and social-distancing guidance for fully vaccinated people.

He also hinted its parks’ mask mandates could be lifted by the summer, saying not having to wear masks would be a “bigger catalyst for growth in attendance” and “make for an even more pleasant experience.”Disneyland in Anaheim, California, reopened on April 30 after a 13-month closure. For now, the park and neighboring Disney California Adventure are restricted to operating at 25% capacity under state health rules.

The state of California is aiming to fully reopen June 15.

Disney World in Orlando, Florida, a state with fewer COVID-19 restrictions, has been operating at a lower-than-usual capacity since July 2020.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.___

The video in the media player above was used in a previous report.
___

The Walt Disney Co. is the parent company of this station.

Copyright © 2021 KTRK-TV. All Rights Reserved.

Author: KTRK

This post originally appeared on ABC13 RSS Feed

Face mask freedom! Rules on coverings and social distancing to be binned on June 21

Under Boris Johnson’s roadmap out of England’s third coronavirus lockdown, June 21 is the earliest point to “remove all legal limits on social contact”. But the Government’s official guidance previously said ‘hands, face, space’ rules will continues to apply.
An insider has now said the Government will axe guidelines enforcing face masks and social distancing for the summer in most areas.

Scientists are reported to be on board with the proposal to scrap the rules, suggested by the National Economy Recovery Taskforce.

They have discussed a “maximalist” approach to lifting “non-pharmaceutical interventions” like masks and staying apart everywhere except for a small list of confined places.

The Prime Minister is also said to be eyeing up a return to the office, looking to end the work-from-home order.

READ MORE: US-UK travel: Boris Johnson will urge Joe Biden to drop travel bans

Experts have warned the Indian variant of Covid could delay the roadmap out of lockdown, after Public Health England identified it as a “variant of concern”.

Prof Christina Pagel, director of the clinical operational research unit at University College London and member of the Independent Sage group of experts, said a spike in B.1.617.2 cases means the May 17 reopening should be delayed.

The COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium, which tracks and identifies new variants, has reportedly recorded 1,723 cases of the variant. Cases appear to double every week.

Prof Pagel told the Guardian: “We’ve done this so many times – waited until things got really bad before we realised we should have acted several weeks ago.

“So why don’t we actually act several weeks ago – which is now!”

DON’T MISS…

The UK’s vaccine rollout has continued at pace, after 135,113 first doses and 350,147 second doses were administered yesterday.

So far, the UK has administered 35,722,461 first doses and 18,438,532 second doses of coronavirus vaccine.

That equals 67.8 percent of the UK’s adult population having received their first dose, and 35 percent receiving their second.

Yesterday saw another 2,284 cases and 11 deaths within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test.

In total, the UK has seen 4,441,975 cases and 127,640 deaths.

Author:
This post originally appeared on Daily Express :: UK Feed

Tesco issues face mask announcement after complaints – masks still mandatory

Tesco has responded to complaints after a large number of shoppers stopped wearing face masks in the store. Lockdown restrictions might start to ease but Britain’s biggest retailer wants to keep their aisles safe.
The supermarket insists that face masks are mandatory at all times. 

Tesco wants to make clear that rules are still in place and wearing a face mask is required unless you are exempt.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, ensuring a safe environment in the stores for people to buy their groceries has been the UK retailer’s number one goal.

They are committed to protecting their customers but also their employees.

DON’T MISS

The retailer also introduced other rules to ensure their customer’s safety, including the introduction of one-way systems or social distancing markings.

Tesco keeps encouraging people to shop alone to avoid the spread of the virus.

Since July 2020, the government has required everyone in England to wear a face mask in supermarkets.

However, it wasn’t until the beginning of 2021 when some supermarkets like Morrisons or Sainsbury’s started to ban shoppers without a mask.

Tesco, Asda and Waitrose followed soon after and started to deny entry to shoppers that didn’t want to follow the rules.

Retailers have been criticised in the past for not doing enough to stop people from breaking Covid rules as infections spread.

With this reminder, Tesco is making sure that customers won’t relax as lockdown restrictions ease.

In this latest statement, they are making clear that their priority is to keep protecting their shoppers and workers.

A Tesco spokesperson said: “Since the start of the pandemic, we have focused on ensuring everyone can get the food they need in a safe environment.”

“To protect our customers and colleagues, we won’t let anyone into our stores who is not wearing a face covering, unless they are exempt in line with Government guidance.”

“We are also asking our customers to shop alone, unless they’re a carer or with children,” the spokesperson added.

“To support our colleagues, we will have additional security in stores to help manage this.”

Author:
This post originally appeared on Daily Express :: Life and Style Feed
Read More

Texas House lifts its mask requirement for chamber and committees

Author: Juan Pablo Garnham
This post originally appeared on The Texas Tribune: Main Feed

Biden delivers remarks after CDC says fully vaccinated Americans don’t need to wear a mask outside

Author: Aleksandra Bush
This post originally appeared on KXAN Austin

Biden delivers remarks after CDC

WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — U.S. health officials Tuesday said fully vaccinated Americans don’t need to wear masks outdoors anymore unless they are in a big crowd of strangers, and those who are unvaccinated can go without a face covering outside in some cases, too.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the updated guidance Tuesday in another step on the road back to normal from the coronavirus outbreak that has killed over 570,000 people in U.S. This was unveiled ahead of a speech by President Joe Biden on the state of the pandemic response.

Photo: CDC

For most of the past year, the CDC had been advising Americans to wear masks outdoors if they are within 6 feet of each other.

“There’s increasing data that suggests transmission is happening indoors rather than outdoors,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said. She added recent studies point to indoor settings leading to infections in more than 90% of the observed infections.

The CDC guidance says that fully vaccinated or not, people do not have to wear masks outdoors when they walk, bike or run alone or with members of their household. They also can go maskless in small outdoor gatherings with fully vaccinated people.

But from there, the CDC has differing guidance for people who are fully vaccinated and those who are not.

Unvaccinated people — defined by the CDC as those who have yet to receive both doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or the one-shot Johnson & Johnson formula — should wear masks at outdoor gatherings that include other unvaccinated people. They also should keep using masks at outdoor restaurants.

Fully vaccinated people do not need to cover up in those situations, the CDC says.

However, everyone should keep wearing masks at crowded outdoor events such as concerts or sporting events, the CDC says.

“In those settings where you have that [crowd] density we really do worry about protecting the unvaccinated people,” Walensky said.

The agency continues to recommend masks at indoor public places, such as hair salons, restaurants, shopping centers, museums and movie theaters.

She added the growing number of vaccinated Americans, declining case rates, and studies about transmission motivated the change in recommendations.

More than half of U.S. adults have gotten at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine, and more than a third have been fully vaccinated.

About 95.9 million people, or 28.9% of the U.S. population, have been fully inoculated with COVID-19 vaccines made by Pfizer Inc/ BioNTech SE, Moderna Inc and Johnson & Johnson, according to CDC data. 42.5% of the U.S. population or 141 million adults had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Officials said a focus in the coming weeks will be on easing guidance for vaccinated people, both in recognition of their lower risk and to provide an incentive to get shots.

“We’re excited about the progress we’ve made, and the opportunity ahead of us, and because of the vaccination program we built we’re further along than almost anyone predicted,” said White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients in a Monday interview. “It means we’re closer to returning to normal.”

One of Biden’s first actions in office was to increase the federal government’s orders for the vaccines to ensure supply for all Americans by early summer. Now the U.S. is able to turn to sharing some of the supply with the world, as the White House announced Monday it would do with roughly 60 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine produced in the U.S. but not yet authorized for use there.

At the same time, the White House was instrumental in an agreement reached with drugmaker Sanofi on Monday to help scale up production through next year of Moderna’s two-dose shot, which makes up more than 40 percent of doses administered in the U.S.

Believing most Americans who have yet to get a shot would do so if it were easier, the White House has deployed billions of dollars toward ads encouraging shots, community programs to bring doses to the hardest to reach Americans, and tax credits to encourage employers to give their workers paid time off to get protected.

“In this next phase we’ll focus on increasing accessibility, building confidence, continuing to put equity at the center of everything we do,” Zients said of the push to maximize the number of Americans vaccinated in coming months. “It’s not going to be easy, but neither was getting to 200 million shots in less than 100 days, and we did that.”

This story is developing. Refresh for updates.

Paulina Porizkova Looks Unrecognizable In Face Mask, Glasses & Shower Cap Ahead Of ‘Date Night’

Author Allison Swan
This post originally appeared on Hollywood Life

Paulina Porizkova shared a hilarious new photo showing off her very relatable beauty routine ahead of a ‘date night.’

Paulina Porizkova, 55, is looking for love — and she’s not afraid to have a little laugh at herself along the way. The legendary model, who’s husband of 30 years, Ric Ocasek, died in 2019, is back on the singles scene. And, on April 21 she shared a hilarious glimpse into her pre-date ritual.

In the silly selfie, the model is rocking a blue hydrating sheet mask by Korean beauty brand Dr. Jart. Adding to her look are a pair of oversize reading glasses and a blue and white polka dot shower cap.

Her face is so covered up that she’s nearly unrecognizable but her signature humor is on full display in her caption. “Date night! Lucky the man that gets this full glory,” she quipped.

All jokes aside, whoever does get a date night with Paulina is truly one very lucky man. Not only is the OG supermodel still as stunning as ever, she’s also incredibly down to earth.

Paulina’s late husband was the frontman of 80’s rock band The Cars but don’t expect her to fall for another rockstar. In fact, during a recent appearance on the HollywoodLife podcast she revealed that she’s sworn off musicians completely. “No more of those, I know what I’m not looking for.”

Paulina Porizkova Face Mask Pic
Paulina Porizkova is dating again. The Supermodel is looking for love on-line. [Shutterstock]

“I definitely have a list of things, like need not apply if you have emotional unavailability, if you don’t love your mother,” she shared. “But, as for what I’m looking for, I’m pretty open and we’ll see. Like, woo me.”
Paulina also revealed during the interview that she’s meeting her potential suitors on-line. “I’ve gone out with some some pretty normal people that are invariably really sweet and charming and… will spend most of the time talking about themselves,” she dished. “It’s online dating baby!”

Paulina’s online dating profile includes pictures of the “real” her,” she explained. “Look, I’m 56, this is what I look like, I don’t post pictures of myself where I look better than the real me. So it’s like, no, you’re gonna get what you think you’re gonna get,” she said.

She added that she’s a “hopeless romantic” and admitted that once her “heart is healed” she would considered getting married again.

Watch: Texas small business owners balance service and safety after end of mask mandate

Author Jackson Barton and Justin Dehn
This post originally appeared on The Texas Tribune: Main Feed

Texas small business owners balance service

Round Rock ISD will consider relaxing mask requirements for students

ROUND ROCK, Texas (KXAN) — The Round Rock Independent School District Board of Trustees will discuss and possibly vote on rolling back some of the mask policies required in schools.

It would be one of the first districts in Central Texas to relax requirements for masking indoors.

Danielle Weston, one of the RRISD trustees, is looking at optimistic statewide and local COVID-19 data to make her suggestions. Specifically, she would like to see that masks are not required for all students 10 and under and for mask mandates to be lifted for all ages, when outdoors, no matter the physical distancing between them.

In a message to her fellow trustees via the RRISD bulletin board, she said her edits “address legitimate learning, and development concerns for our youngest students” and “address safety concerns as temperatures rise here in central Texas.”

“Given the drastic decline in the data including cases, hospitalizations and deaths statewide and here locally, it’s time to pivot to data driven decisions when it comes to requiring children to wear a mask in order to receive a Free and Appropriate Public Education,” Weston said.

She also pointed to the Texas Education Agency guidelines, statewide instructions that require mask wearing indoors “wherever it is not feasible to maintain six feet of social distancing from another person not in the same household.” Weston said the fact that Round Rock students are having to wear masks indoors, even when they are isolated and well beyond six-feet separation, contradicts what even the state recommends.

“Following TEA Public Health Guidelines is entirely appropriate as our starting point. Given the fact that the forced masking of children is a violation of Texas law, we as leaders must be looking for an exit ramp to this practice as soon as possible. The data speaks for itself and provides that exit ramp,” Weston said.

Children desperately need to return to their classrooms, reengage with their peers and community and breathe freely. The mental health and academic progress of our youth has taken a beating over the last year. I want these things reversed ASAP and will advocate and vote to that end.
Danielle Weston, RRISD Board Trustee

However, some families and even fellow board members believe removing proven health guidelines this close to the end of the school year is counterintuitive.

Christina Mansson, a Round Rock ISD parent of two, created the petition “Keep Masks for Students, Teacher, and Staff at Round Rock ISD”, asking the trustees to keep the current mask mandate in place.

“If the children bring it home to parents who may not have been able to secure a vaccine appointment yet or are still in the process of building immunity, they could make their parents sick,” Mansson said. “The teachers here have done so much to make sure they are following rigid COVID-19 protocols and to keep our kids safe.”

RRISD Board Member Tiffanie Harrison agreed, saying the board should be focusing on some of their more pressing tasks, like finalizing district goals and hiring a new superintendent to lead administrators into the fall 2021 semester.

She felt the district reached a mutual compromise in late March when students were given the option to remove their masks during outdoor activities provided they could appropriately socially distance from others.

“We have a lot on our plate and yet here is this mask issue again,” Harrison said. “I don’t feel that it’s time to change course knowing that there are parents that were waiting for this last quarter to send their kids back. Some very vulnerable students from very vulnerable families.”

Harrison said she will listen to the public testimony and discussion on Thursday, but she hopes the trustees will move forward without making any changes.

“This doesn’t feel like the right time to me, this feels like a distraction, and I really hope my colleagues and I can regroup around what we need to be doing,” Harrison said.

The board will hear public comment and discuss this at the regularly scheduled board meeting on Thursday. It’s important to note the Round Rock ISD Administration would like to keep the current mask mandates in place, saying, in part, “while the Board of Trustees has the authority to alter or remove our current mask protocol, Round Rock ISD District administration strongly recommends it should remain as-is for the remainder of the spring semester.”

Reach KXAN’s Education Reporter Alex Caprariello by email at [email protected] or by phone at 512-703-5365, or find him on Twitter and Facebook.

Alex Caprariello
This article originally appeared on KXAN Austin

Texas coronavirus cases haven't surged since Gov. Greg Abbott lifted the mask order. Experts warn it's too soon to celebrate.

More than a month has passed since Gov. Greg Abbott ended virtually all statewide restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic. Nationwide, new coronavirus cases are on the rise as new variants of the virus spread. And about four-fifths of Texans are not yet fully vaccinated.

But at least for now, the most dire predictions of a new major wave of cases in Texas have not come true, prompting a mix of theories from public health experts.

Those experts caution that a major increase in cases could still come and it may still be too early to tell whether Abbott’s decisions to lift the statewide mask mandate and allow businesses to fully reopen could prompt a new wave of infections. Still, daily new cases and the positivity rate have leveled off over the past month, while deaths and hospitalization have gone down substantially.

Experts point out that vaccination is ramping up, many businesses are still requiring masks and there are unique factors impacting individual metrics — like a drop in demand for testing that is driving down raw case numbers.

They also emphasize that, especially at this point in the pandemic, a stabilization of such metrics, or even a modest decline, is not exactly cause for celebration.

“I think we could’ve been even lower at this point in time,” if not for Abbott’s latest decisions, said Dr. Luis Ostrosky, an infectious disease specialist at UTHealth’s McGovern Medical School in Houston. “The fact that we’re sort of stable is not necessarily good news — because we’re stable at a very high level. It’s like everybody saying you’re at a stable cruising speed — but at 100 miles per hour.”

Abbott’s decision to end most statewide restrictions went into effect 35 days ago, on March 10. The seven-day average for daily new confirmed cases was 3,020 on that day; it was 2,456 on Tuesday. The seven-day average of the state’s positivity rate — the ratio of cases to tests — was 6.24% on March 10; it was 5.89% on Monday. (The latest positivity-rate figures are considered preliminary and subject to recalculation as more test results come in from the date in question.)

Deaths and hospitalizations, which lag new cases, have seen steeper drops since March 10. The seven-day average of new daily deaths was 187 on March 10; it was 64 on Tuesday. There were 4,556 Texans hospitalized with the virus on March 10; there were 3,002 on Tuesday.

The four key metrics are way down from peaks earlier in the year, when the state was seeing daily new caseloads approaching 20,000, a positivity rate that went above 20%, hospitalizations that topped 14,000 and weeks of more than 300 deaths per day.

At the same time, vaccinations have climbed steadily as the state has expanded eligibility, opening up to everyone age 16 and older on March 29. The percentage of fully vaccinated Texans more than doubled from March 10 to Monday, when it was 1 in 5 Texans.

“Overall, it’s great news,” said state Rep. Chris Turner, the House Democratic Caucus chairman who has been critical of Abbott’s decisions throughout the pandemic. “I’m very glad that so far the governor’s decisions have not resulted in an increase in cases.”

“Clearly the massive investment in vaccines and the improved distribution of vaccines across the country since President Biden came into office is having a tremendously positive impact on protecting people from COVID-19,” Turner added.

Despite the numbers in Texas, it has been an open question as to how long it takes after the lifting of restrictions to see a spike in the data. The incubation period for the virus — the time between when someone is exposed to it and when they start showing symptoms — is believed to be two to 14 days, and not everyone immediately stopped wearing masks and visiting fully reopened businesses on March 10.

Meanwhile, the rise of more transmissible variants across the country has added another threat. Average daily infections rose by almost 7% nationwide over the past week as officials race to vaccinate people as quickly as possible. Those efforts might be hampered in the short term after Texas paused the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine so federal health authorities could review six reports of blood clotting among 6.8 million doses nationwide.

The nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, was asked in a TV interview last week about Texas’ numbers and gave an uncertain response about what was driving them at the moment. Speaking with MSNBC, he said “it can be confusing because you may see a lag and a delay because often you have to wait a few weeks before you see the effect of what you’re doing right now.”

“We’ve been fooled before by situations where people begin to open up, nothing happens and then all of a sudden, several weeks later, things start exploding on you,” Fauci said. “So we’ve got to be careful we don’t prematurely judge that.”

Until recently, Abbott has been restrained in openly touting the Texas trend lines, instead focusing much of his celebratory public messaging on vaccination progress.

“We absolutely are not declaring victory at this time,” Abbott told Fox News on Sunday. “We remain very vigilant and guarded and proactive in our response, but there’s simple math behind the reason why we continue to have success,” he added, citing the combination of increasing vaccinations and the “acquired immunity” among Texans who have already had the virus and recovered from it.

However, Abbott went on to make a dubious claim: that the state is “very close” to herd immunity, or the point at which enough people have been vaccinated or have already become infected — and recovered — to protect the rest of the population. Abbott said that despite acknowledging in the same response that he does not know what the herd immunity threshold is for the virus, an uncertainty echoed by the public health community.

Fauci has said herd immunity against the coronavirus could require as much as 90% of the population to be vaccinated. Ostrosky said “classically in epidemiology, we talk about herd immunity in the 60 to 80% range.”

In any case, experts agree that Texas is not anywhere near herd immunity. As of Monday, just 20.1% of Texans had been fully vaccinated and 9.72% had tested positive for the virus. There could be overlap between the two groups — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people who had the disease get a vaccine.

In the meantime, though, public health officials are keeping a close eye on the core metrics and whether they creep up as more Texans take advantage of the end of the mask mandate and businesses reopening at full capacity. Ostrosky acknowledged that so far, the numbers are “not what we were expecting.”

“The question is how come and the answer in my mind is vaccines,” Ostrosky said. “I think we’re making really good headway with the vaccination program. We were sort of aggressive moving through the stages [of eligibility].”

“I think our saving grace was the vaccines despite the not-so-good choices that some of our fellow Texans are making” with regard to practices like masking, Ostrosky added.

Jaquelin Dudley, the associate director of the LaMontagne Center for Infectious Disease at the University of Texas at Austin, said the underreporting of previous cases could be masking the extent to which the state’s population is already immune. Combined with the vaccination effort, “we’re definitely impairing the ability of the virus to spread” at this juncture in the pandemic, she said.

She and other experts also cited anecdotal evidence that most businesses, especially in the state’s major metropolitan centers, are still requiring masks despite the lack of statewide mandate.

“I think it’s too early to drop mask mandates, and that’s really been left up to the individual businesses,” Dudley said. “Certainly the places that I know of are still requiring masks, and I’m sure that’s helping.”

One of the strongest arguments to keep wearing masks is the rise of variants, Dudley said. There are currently five “variants of concern” in the United States, according to the CDC, which is studying how effectively current vaccines address them.

When it comes to steeper drops in deaths, Dudley said she thinks the state has “just got a lot better about treating the infection” after confronting the pandemic for over a year.

Ben King, a clinical assistant professor and epidemiologist at the University of Houston College of Medicine, said the downward trend in both deaths and hospitalizations could reflect Texas’ prioritization of the highest-risk population — the elderly — for immunization.

Both Texas and Florida made national headlines late last year for bucking CDC guidance and prioritizing older people over essential workers in their vaccine rollouts. And Abbott further prioritized older Texans with his Save Our Seniors initiative, which has deployed National Guard troops to help vaccinate homebound seniors. Over 100 counties have taken part in the the program, which has been underway for six weeks.

There are also simple statistical truths behind the latest numbers. Since earlier this year, the number of tests administered has dropped, and with it, the number of cases identified. The falloff in testing is not for a lack of supply, according to experts, but due to an apparent lack of demand as Texans fatigued by the virus see less of a need to get tested in the pandemic’s final stages.

While the positivity rate has remained stable, experts said the end of the pandemic is especially not the time to let up on testing. King said Texas’ plan to provide state-licensed summer camps with COVID-19 rapid antigen tests is “exactly the way we need to be thinking.”

“We want to see testing go way up, but we also want to see cases go way down,” said King, who agreed with Ostrosky that any flatlining of metrics at this point is “not what we need.”

“We have to be crushing [the curve] at this point,” King said. Abbott’s latest decisions “could be just stretching out the flatness of the curve, which just makes it harder to get to zero, which is obviously what we all want.”

Experts also point out that the changing of seasons could be keeping the numbers relatively low. As the weather gets warmer, people are gathering more outside — and not inside, where the virus is more likely to spread.

The experts, though, are pleading with the public to still take the pandemic seriously, even as the numbers look good and the statewide restrictions fall further in to the rearview.

“If we don’t focus — and all we’re asking for is two more months … — we’re really gonna lose all that ground we gained,” Ostrosky said.

Disclosure: UTHealth and University of Texas at Austin have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

Patrick Svitek
This article originally appeared on The Texas Tribune: Main Feed