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Ohio Doctors Still Urge Caution After CDC Guidance For Fully Vaccinated People

A man wearing a face mask walks out of a Marc's Store, Friday, Jan. 8, 2021, in Mayfield Heights, Ohio.
Tony Dejak
Associated Press
A man wearing a face mask walks out of a Marc's Store, Friday, Jan. 8, 2021, in Mayfield Heights, Ohio.

Some Ohio doctors are welcoming the new guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that masks are no longer required for small groups of fully-vaccinated people gathering indoors.

But despite the hopeful new guidelines, released on Monday, the doctors warn that masks are still an important part of getting to a COVID-free future.

The CDC considers people fully vaccinated two weeks after their Johnson & Johnson shot or two weeks after the second shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.

“It’s going to be unlikely that you transmit COVID after you get the vaccine," said Dr. David Margolius, an internal medicine specialist at MetroHealth in Cleveland.

The guidance changed because we have more information about how likely it is to spread the virus after getting the vaccine, Margolius said.

“Early on, there was some concern that maybe you’re not going to get sick from COVID, but what if you could still get it without knowing it and transmit it," he said. "It’s still possible, but it looks rare."

University Hospitals pediatric infectious disease specialist Dr. Claudia Hoyen is also very optimistic about the new federal guidance.

“This is really exciting, and it’s hopefully going to make us all feel a little better about getting the vaccine,” Hoyen said.

Hoyen warns, however, there will still be limitations until there is less COVID-19 spread in the community.

“It doesn’t mean the brakes are off,” she said. “This is in very select settings.”

Another important part of wearing a mask is to prevent the spread of variants or mutations of the virus. Experts still aren’t sure how the variants will react to each of the vaccines, according to the CDC, but Hoyen said the only way we can effectively stop the variants is to continue to wear a mask.

“My guess is we will see more variants spreading around places like Cleveland, Ohio, and the rest of the country,” she said.

Hoyen also worries about people taking spring break vacations and spreading the virus and mutations of the virus.

Even in a post-COVID world, wearing a mask might just become a part of what we do, Hoyen said, especially during cold and flu season to protect those around us.

“It will be a personal choice,” she said. “We know they work, and if you’re someone who doesn’t want to get sick, I think making a mask just part of our normal day for those who want or need it, is really something we could consider, moving forward."

As case rates continue to drop in Ohio, the state gets closer to lifting the mask mandate and other health orders. Gov. Mike DeWine said that will happen when the state reaches 50 cases per 100,000 people over a two-week period.

Margolius estimated that Ohio might reach that number in about two months, if people continue to wear masks and get vaccinated. He’s optimistic, but he warns against fully going back to normal.

“I think that if everybody went to pre-pandemic behavior all at once, that could potentially create a dangerous situation, but I don’t think people will,” he said.

The timing will align with more people spending time with each other outside, which should also prevent spread and keep cases low.

Even if the mask mandate is lifted and no one else is wearing a mask, there is some evidence that you will be slightly protected from viral spread even if you are the only one wearing a mask, Margolius said.

The CDC guidance recommends continuing to wear a mask and social distancing in public even if you’re fully vaccinated.

If you’re vaccinated, you can also gather indoors without masks with unvaccinated people from one other household, unless any of those people have an increased risk of a severe reaction from COVID-19, according to the guidance.

Vaccinated people should also avoid medium to large crowds, watch for COVID-19 symptoms, and delay travel, according to the CDC guidance. 

What questions do you still have about COVID-19, the vaccines or Ohio's response? Ask below as part of WOSU's A Year Of COVID series.