NORFOLK, Va. - Gov. Ralph Northam says his team continues to look into updated CDC guidance regarding mask wearing for vaccinated people.
"As we know those guidelines came out from the CDC yesterday. Our team, as we speak, is reviewing those and we'll have recommendations in the next few days," Northam told reporters in Richmond Wednesday morning.
Back in May, Virginia began following the CDC's recommendation saying vaccinated people didn't need to wear masks at most places indoors. On Tuesday, the CDC took a step back and said vaccinated people should wear them indoors in areas where the spread of the virus is substantial. Several areas in Hampton Roads are in the high threshold, including Virginia Beach and Chesapeake.
Gov. Northam said he learned of the CDC's updated guidelines at the same time as the general public. "We'll offer guidelines soon, but in the meantime the key is we know these vaccines work," he said.
While the CDC breaks down the virus transmission rates by local jurisdiction, a local health expert says it's better to be safe than sorry and at this point wear them indoors in public. "I think it's very appropriate," said Dr. Edward Oldfield, an infectious disease expert from Eastern Virginia Medical School. "I'm going to start wearing a mask again if I'm indoors with people and I don't know their vaccination status or anywhere where there are significant people indoors."
The science behind it all has to do with the Delta variant. Experts say vaccinated people can spread this variant, while it appeared less likely that was happening with previous strains of the virus.
"It's pretty clear now that people who are vaccinated not only can get infected, but when they get infected can have an amount of virus that's high enough and they can infect other people," said Oldfield. "That's really what led to the change."
VDH data continues to show 99-percent of new cases are in unvaccinated people. What if people want to gather indoors with people who they know are vaccinated? "In general I think if everybody's vaccinated, I don't feel you would need to wear a mask indoors," Oldfield answered, adding he would still be cautious in big groups of vaccinated people.
The CDC also now recommends children, staff, and teachers all wear masks at schools regardless of vaccination status. Last week, Virginia said mask decisions would be up to local school divisions. Gov. Northam didn't update that guidance on Wednesday, but experts say the Delta variant has really thrown a curveball.
"I hate to see us go backwards and I think we thought we were coming out of the woods, but the fact of the matter is the Delta variant is a whole new game," said Oldfield.