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U.S. Surgeon General Backs Local Mask Mandates When Needed

HealthDay News
by By Ernie Mundell and Robin Foster HealthDay Reporters
Updated: Jul 19th 2021

new article illustration

MONDAY, July 19, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said Sunday that he supports reinstating local mask mandates when they are needed to curb the spread of COVID-19 among unvaccinated people.

"It's very reasonable for counties to take more mitigation measures like the mask rules you see coming out in L.A., and I anticipate that will happen in other parts of the country, too," Murthy said on the ABC News show "This Week."

Murthy said such local orders are consistent with federal guidelines that permit local authorities to require prevention measures, something that will likely be needed more often now as the highly contagious Delta variant rips through unvaccinated populations, the Washington Post reported.

In May, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said fully vaccinated individuals could shed masks when gathering in indoor locations, but the guidelines also gave local officials flexibility to respond to new outbreaks, Murthy said. The Los Angeles County order reinstating mask requirements indoors applies to both vaccinated and unvaccinated people."That is not contradictory to the guidance the CDC has issued," Murthy said.

Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Hilda Solis also told "This Week" that the new mandate is a response to new COVID-19 cases reaching 1,900 a day last week.

"I'm not pleased that we have to go back to using the masks in this manner, but right now it's going to save lives and that's what's most important," Solis said.

On Friday, CDC director Rochelle Walensky warned "this is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated," noting more than 97 percent of new hospitalizations and almost all COVID-19 deaths have been among the unvaccinated.

Murthy, told CNN's "State of the Union," that Americans can trust the vaccines' safety, the Post reported.

"The good news," he said, "is not only is the vaccine highly effective at preventing severe infection, like hospitalizations and deaths, but even if you do have a breakthrough infection, which, again, happens in a very small minority of people, it's likely to be a mild or asymptomatic infection. So my hope is that people will feel reassured by that."

Last week, Murthy warned that misinformation about the coronavirus and the vaccines that protect against it had cost people their lives and social media platforms needed to do more to stop it. The next day, President Biden admonished big tech companies: "They're killing people," he told reporters.

The warnings prompted Facebook to accuse Murthy of praising them privately while publicly using them as a scapegoat for Biden's missed vaccination goals, the Post reported. Murthy defended the administration Sunday.

"What I have effectively said is, when we see steps that are good, that are being taken, we should acknowledge those. And there have been some positive steps taken by these technology companies," he said on CNN. "But what I have also said to them, publicly and privately, is that it's not enough, that we're still seeing a proliferation of misinformation online."

Many States Move to Ban Vaccine Mandates, Passports in Public Schools

As schools around America begin to prepare for reopening this fall, many states are taking steps to stop public schools from requiring COVID-19 vaccination or proof of vaccination.

At least seven states -- Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, Montana, Oklahoma and Utah -- have already passed such laws, while 34 more have introduced bills that would limit requiring someone to demonstrate their vaccination status, CNN reported.

Such moves leave public health officials worried about the limitations these laws could place on efforts to control the spread of the coronavirus and emerging variants.

"Anytime there's legislation that potentially prohibits the health department from trying to prevent the spread of disease, even if it's putting limits on masks or mandates on vaccination, then it's another step that local health departments would have to go through should there be an outbreak or a rise in cases," Lori Tremmel Freeman, chief executive officer of the National Association of County and City Health Officials, told CNN.

The various laws take different approaches, but the end result is that schools can't require coronavirus vaccines, or in some cases, proof of vaccination, CNN reported.

In Alabama, Gov. Kay Ivey signed into law a bill that states that "institutions of education may continue to require a student to prove vaccination status as a condition of attendance only for the specific vaccines that were already required by the institution as of January 1, 2021," a measure that would exclude coronavirus vaccines.

In Arkansas, its new law notes that receiving a coronavirus vaccine "shall not be a condition of education," while Florida's new law prohibits educational institutions from requiring students or residents to provide proof of vaccination, CNN said.

In Indiana, Gov. Eric Holcomb signed a similar law in late April that notes "the state or a local unit may not issue or require an immunization passport." In Montana, the law signed by Gov. Greg Gianforte in May calls it "an unlawful discriminatory practice" to "refuse, withhold from, or deny" educational opportunities based on a person's vaccination status, CNN reported.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma passed a law in June that prohibits public schools from requiring COVID-19 vaccination as a condition of admittance or attendance. And in Utah, a new law "prohibits a governmental entity from requiring that an individual receive a vaccine for COVID-19." That includes public school districts, CNN said.

Public health officials worry that prohibiting certain vaccine requirements could impact public opinion around both coronavirus vaccines and longstanding school vaccine requirements, Brent Ewig, a policy consultant for the Association of Immunization Managers, told CNN.

He pointed to another factor that is likely slowing the implementation of vaccine mandates.

"I think the other issue is because [vaccines are] still under emergency use authorization, it has created some hesitancy about going too far on this debate about mandating," Ewig said. "My sense is that there are a lot of people that are waiting on the timing of that from when it goes from FDA emergency use authorization to full licensure, which I think we expect sometime in the fall."

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on COVID-19.


SOURCES: Washington Post; CNN