BLUEFIELD — The decision by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) last week to drastically change its recommendation on mask wearing was unexpected, but the top COVID19 expert in West Virginia said it was the right decision.
With the new guidelines, states, including West Virginia and Virginia, have dropped the mask mandate in public buildings (with a few exceptions) for fully vaccinated residents.
Dr. Clay Marsh, state COVID-19 Czar, said Monday the rationale behind the CDC decision is a solid one, primarily because of the effectiveness of the vaccine.
“The CDC mask decision was a bit of a surprise, but data and science supported that,” he said. “These vaccines have been remarkably effective, much better than we ever dreamed.”
Marsh said “real world evidence” shows the vaccines to be “almost completely effective” preventing serious illness, hospitalization and death from the virus, and that includes the variants.
They are 90 percent effective in preventing any infection at all, he said, and 95-97 percent effective in preventing any major symptoms.
The success of the vaccinations are reflected in national statistics.
“We have seen the lowest number of cases in the United States since April 2020,” he said, adding the vaccines are “good, effective and safe.”
School systems in both states, though, continue to enforce mask wearing.
After the announcement was made last week last week, most retail stores and public buildings in the area have since dropped the requirement for vaccinated customers and fully vaccinated employees to wear masks.
Ron Martin, co-owner of Grants Supermarkets, said his stores are following CDC and state guidelines and customers as well as fully vaccinated employees are no longer required to wear a mask.
“But non-vaccinated employees are still required to wear them,” he said.
That reflects many of the other larger stores’ policy, with all also recommending that customers who have not been vaccinated to wear a mask.
Walmart has announced that its customers and fully vaccinated staff are no longer required to wear a mask, but those employees who are not vaccinated must continue to wear one.
Food City issued a statement Monday explaining its policy.
“Effective Thursday, May 20, 2021, associates who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as defined by the CDC will no longer be required to wear a face mask, unless required by state or local laws. Fully vaccinated associates will have a vaccination logo displayed on their name badge. Fully vaccinated customers are welcome to shop without their masks as well. You should continue to wear a mask if you have not been vaccinated or if you prefer to do so as a safety precaution. We will continue to encourage social distancing and provide hand sanitizer, cart wipes and enhanced cleaning procedures in all of our stores,” the statement said.
So far, Kroger continues to require mask wearing by customers and all employees, but that will be reevaluated.
On Friday, the company released a statement that said: “At this time, the Kroger Family of Companies continues to require everyone in our stores to wear masks. We are encouraging and incentivizing associate vaccinations by offering a $100 one-time payment to associates who receive the recommended doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. As we have throughout the pandemic, we are reviewing current safety practices, the CDC’s latest guidance, and soliciting feedback from associates to guide the next phase of our policy. Additionally, we continue to encourage everyone to practice social distancing and frequent hand washing as well as consider the use of no-touch grocery.”
Gov. Jim Justice said Monday during his pandemic briefing he has been thanked by many people for dropping the mask mandate for those fully vaccinated.
But he said businesses can still require all customers and employees to wear a mask if they choose to do so.
“Any private business can require you to wear a mask,” he said. “They have every right to do that if they choose.”
Justice also said that the new policy is on the “honor system” since those who have not been vaccinated should continue to wear the mask and won’t officially be exempt in West Virginia until June 20, when the mask mandate will be fully lifted for everyone.
— Contact Charles Boothe at email@example.com