Will Butler County mask up again? Rising cases bring new questions

A Walmart shopper exits the store wearing a mask Thursday July 29, 2021 The CDC recommended on Tuesday that in areas with high community COVID-19 transmission rates, fully vaccinated individuals should don a face mask. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

caption arrowCaption
A Walmart shopper exits the store wearing a mask Thursday July 29, 2021 The CDC recommended on Tuesday that in areas with high community COVID-19 transmission rates, fully vaccinated individuals should don a face mask. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Some Miami Valley residents say they will not return to wearing face masks despite rising coronavirus cases and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation this week to mask up.

The CDC announced last week that in areas of the country with substantial or high community transmission rates, fully vaccinated individuals should again don face masks in indoor public areas. Several area counties are listed as having substantial transmission of COVID: Butler, Clinton, Greene, Miami, Montgomery and Preble counties.

A Journal-News poll of more than 1,400 people found that a slight majority (56%) of area residents say they will not wear masks again indoors in public.

Responses varied with geography. About 70% of respondents from Butler, Clark, Miami and Warren counties said they will not wear masks again. Meanwhile, slightly over half of respondents from Montgomery and Greene counties said they will wear masks.

Residents were conflicted about a potential return of mask wearing. Businesses will remain unaffected for now, however; local health experts say it is unlikely there will be another mask mandate soon which businesses would have to enforce.

ajc.com

The Guidance

In its announcement Tuesday, CDC officials said they made this recommendation based on new information about the delta variant’s greater ability to spread among vaccinated people compared to other previous strains of COVID-19.

The Associated Press reported this week that an internal presentation circulated within the CDC said the delta variant is more transmissible than the viruses that cause Ebola, the common cold, seasonal flu and smallpox and that it as contagious as chickenpox. Vaccines remain highly effective in preventing serious illness, hospitalizations and deaths in vaccinated people, according to the CDC report.

ExploreDelta variant in Ohio: What you should know

Due in part to the delta variant’s spread, coronavirus cases have been ticking up nationally and locally in recent weeks. Data released Thursday by the Ohio Department of Health put the statewide incident rate at about 77 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents during the past two weeks. Last week, the number was about 46.

The CDC recommended masks be worn in indoor public spaces even for vaccinated people in areas where there is substantial and high transmission rates. Areas with substantial transmission are those reporting 50 to 99.99 cases per 100,000 people in the last seven days. High transmission means a county has reported more than 100 cases.

What are local health experts saying

Even with case numbers on the rise, Wright State virus expert Dr. Dawn Wooley doesn’t think another mask mandate is the answer given the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine.

”At this point, I’m not in favor of mandating that vaccinated people should be wearing masks again. Certainly, everyone is free to make their own choice,” she said.

Unvaccinated people should continue to wear masks in indoor, crowded public settings where social distancing is not possible, Wooley said. Regarding medical and healthcare settings, it would be best for masks to be worn at all times as a precaution, she continued.

The fact that several Miami Valley counties have been designated as areas of substantial community spread should encourage more people to go through the vaccination process, Wooley said.

“I think that should argue for people who are not vaccinated to seek vaccination. I still think our vaccination rates are too low to prevent community spread,” she said. “If enough people are vaccinated, it really cuts down on transmission rates.”

About 46% of the state’s population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

ExploreStill need a COVID shot? Find out where in Montgomery County

It’s possible that the fall and winter seasons could bring about more changes in masking guidelines due to the shift in weather conditions to a colder and drier climate in which viruses can more easily be transmitted, Wooley noted.

“So if we’re going to have a variant that is resistant to the vaccine, especially in a more transmissible environment, such as fall and winter, then we need to consider reinstating wearing masks,” she said.

caption arrowCaption
College students from left, Gabby Famal, Gabrielle Schneider and Kennedy Byrd exit Walmart after shopping Thursday July 29, 2021.The CDC recommended on Tuesday that in areas with high community COVID-19 transmission rates, fully vaccinated individuals should don a face mask. All three women are from Dayton. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Credit: JIM NOELKER

College students from left, Gabby Famal, Gabrielle Schneider and Kennedy Byrd exit Walmart after shopping Thursday July 29, 2021.The CDC recommended on Tuesday that in areas with high community COVID-19 transmission rates, fully vaccinated individuals should don a face mask. All three women are from Dayton.  JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Credit: JIM NOELKER

caption arrowCaption
College students from left, Gabby Famal, Gabrielle Schneider and Kennedy Byrd exit Walmart after shopping Thursday July 29, 2021.The CDC recommended on Tuesday that in areas with high community COVID-19 transmission rates, fully vaccinated individuals should don a face mask. All three women are from Dayton. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Credit: JIM NOELKER

How community members are responding

Area residents reacted strongly to the possibility of a return of face masks to daily life. Some would wear masks again in hopes of protecting fellow community members, while others aren’t so sure about about whether they work.

DeWitt Chapple from Butler County said he will return to wearing a mask after forgoing one when the state mandate ended.

“I don’t want to take a chance of catching the disease as I already have COPD,” he said.

Jennifer Gray of Butler County said she will wear a mask again because she does not fully trust her vaccine.

Stephanie Chamber of Butler County said she would be very happy to comply and protect lives if there was another state mask mandate.

Paul Kyde, 77, of Butler County said he can’t stand masks and he would try to move to another state if another mandate was imposed.

Another Butler County respondent said he will not wear a mask again because “if the vaccine works, I shouldn’t have to worry.”

Cloth face masks are effective in blocking a majority of respiratory droplets that carry the coronavirus and are effective tools in decreasing community spread of COVID-19, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

When Ohio’s mask mandate was in place and case numbers were soaring, Dayton area residents overwhelmingly wore face coverings at stores, a November investigation by this newspaper found. Observations of nearly 2,000 customers at over 100 stores in four counties found that only about 3% of people were not wearing masks.

Since the mask mandate was lifted in June, mask wearing has fallen out of fashion locally. Only 19% of respondents to our online survey this week reported wearing a face mask in public regularly since the mandate was lifted.

What does this mean for local businesses?

Local businesses were significantly impacted by the onset of the pandemic. However, the new CDC guidelines are unlikely to result in any major changes in operations, according to Dayton Chamber of Commerce Director of Marketing Holly Allen.

“I would say going forward, businesses will likely continue to make the best decision for their business and for their customers,” Allen said. “So, I don’t see anything changing for most of our businesses in the future.”

With no third-party mandates currently in place, businesses will continue to adjust their strategies as they see fit, an approach the Chamber supports, Allen stated.

“In any situation, the Chamber of Commerce’s stance is that we would like to see decisions left in the hands of the business owners, so they can do what they think is best for their business, for their employees and for their customers,” she said.

ExploreMasks required for all visitors to National Museum of the U.S. Air Force

To that end, it is unlikely that the CDC’s new recommendations will bring significant economic change in the Dayton region, Allen said.

“(Businesses) are continuing to move forward, and our economy has been moving forward really well,” she said. “So, I don’t anticipate any changes.”

About the Authors