masks

In this March 3 file photo, people wearing face coverings as a precaution against COVID-19 walk through a shaft of light on a street in Philadelphia. On Tuesday, U.S. health officials say 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. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

With national COVID-19 vaccination rates increasing and nearly 30 percent of the U.S. population now vaccinated, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced new guidance for face coverings, specifically for the outdoors, Tuesday.

The CDC explained that fully vaccinated people do not need to wear masks outdoors, unless they are in a large crowd of strangers and people are unable to physically distance like at an outdoor performance or sporting event.

If running, walking, hiking or biking alone, or with members of the same household or in small outdoor gatherings with fully vaccinated family and friends, fully vaccinated and unvaccinated people do not have to wear face coverings while together.

The CDC still suggests masks should be worn in indoor public spaces like shopping malls, movie theaters or other locations where the vaccination and health status of others is unknown. Medium and large gatherings, crowds, and poorly ventilated spaces should still be avoided, CDC officials said.

“The CDC determination is a wonderful step forward as data supports low transmission in the outdoors. As we learn more, we are able to adapt guidelines and restrictions to more quickly return to a sense of normalcy,” San Miguel County Public Health Director Grace Franklin said in a county news release. “The data continues to support vaccines as our means to ending this pandemic as they significantly decrease the risk of transmission and infection, especially outdoors.”

Medical professionals across the country agreed with the latest CDC guidance, as it points to progress in the pandemic fight.

“It’s the return of freedom,” said Dr. Mike Saag, an infectious disease expert at the University of Alabama at Birmingham who welcomed the change, per an Associated Press report. “It’s the return of us being able to do normal activities again. We’re not there yet, but we’re on the exit ramp. And that’s a beautiful thing.”

Similarly, Dr. Babak Javid, a physician-scientist at the University of California, San Francisco, said it’s sensible.

“In the vast majority of outdoor scenarios, transmission risk is low,” Javid said.

Javid has favored outdoor mask-wearing requirements because he believes they increase indoor mask-wearing, but he said Americans can understand the relative risks and make good decisions.

“The key thing is to make sure people wear masks indoors” while in public spaces, he said.

He added, “I'm looking forward to mask-free existence.”

Officials agree that vaccines are the biggest factor in readjusting public health guidance and orders.

Franklin has shared that 77 percent of the county’s eligible population is on track to be fully vaccinated by the end of May. That number includes residents who have received the first shot of the two-dose Moderna vaccine and are scheduled to receive their second shot throughout next month. She added that only 12 people hadn’t been able to receive their second dose so far, mainly due to scheduling, though most are planning to get it at some point.

The county continues to lead the state in vaccination rate, as Colorado is slightly ahead of the national vaccination percentage at just over 30 percent, as of press time Wednesday afternoon.

Though there wasn’t a public health update during Wednesday’s Board of County Commissioners meeting, Franklin announced last week that the state approved and sent 150 doses of the Pfizer vaccine to the county, which is the only vaccine authorized for people 16 years of age and older.

The first Pfizer vaccine clinic is today (Thursday) at the Norwood library from 4-5 p.m. Sign up at bit.ly/3tZeT8N. Another Pfizer clinic will be held Friday at Telluride Intermediate School from 3-5 p.m. Sign up at bit.ly/2QkrpkE. Parents and guardians will be required to consent for their children at the end of the online registration.

“Recipients of the Pfizer vaccine must be available for the second dose in order to receive the first, and there is no flexibility for vaccine dates and times. People who cannot commit to both dates should schedule at pharmacies outside of the county that offer the Pfizer vaccine,” according to a county news release announcing the Pfizer clinics.

Clinics for the Moderna vaccine, which is for people 18 or older, will be held Saturday at the Telluride Intermediate School from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Wednesday at Telluride Intermediate School from 1:45-3:45 p.m.

Also on Saturday, a clinic for the recently resumed Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which is for people 18 or older, will be held at the Telluride Intermediate School from 4-5 p.m. For more information on the decision to resume the distribution and administration of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, see the front page story in today’s Daily Planet.

For those interested in receiving a Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccine, registration can be found on the county’s COVID website at bit.ly/smcvaccine.

County public health officials confirmed and announced five new positive cases Tuesday from test results received April 23-26. Of these cases, three are confirmed as residents, and all actively contagious cases are currently in isolation. As of press time Wednesday afternoon, there have been 866 total positive cases among residents, including three active cases. To learn more about the county’s current COVID-19 metrics, visit the county COVID-19 dashboard at covid-19-sanmiguelco.hub.arcgis.com.