News23ABC In-Depth


Nursing organizations disagree with CDC over mask mandates

"I think we need to continue"
Posted: 1:55 PM, May 17, 2021
Updated: 2021-05-17 20:41:40-04
Virus Outbreak California
Virus Outbreak California
Virus Outbreak California

(KERO) — The CDC's new guidelines for mask use have created a lot of confusion. So 23ABC is taking an in-depth look at current mask guidance, vaccination rates, and how these rules impact you at work, the grocery store, and other places.

What Does State Leadership Say About Lifting the Mandate?

Monday California health officials said the state will start following CDC mask guidance on June 15th. That's when vaccinated people will be allowed to go without masks in most situations.

Governor Gavin Newsom previously said June 15th is when California will totally reopen. The state's health and human services agency made that decision in part to give local governments more time to prepare for the change.

California has made amazing progress in our fight against COVID-19. With more than 34 million vaccines administered, we now have among the lowest case and positivity rates in the nation.

On June 15, California plans to implement the CDC’s guidelines around masking to allow fully vaccinated Californians to go without a mask in most indoor settings. This four-week period will give Californians time to prepare for this change while we continue our relentless focus on delivering vaccines, particularly in underserved communities.

We urge all Californians to get vaccinated to ensure that infection and hospitalization rates remain low across the state and that we can all return to the activities we love.

Until June 15, when California plans to fully reopen the economy, California will keep our existing guidance around masks in place.

As of May 3, 2021, face coverings are no longer required outdoors except at crowded events, and for unvaccinated people, when physical distancing cannot be maintained.

In indoor settings outside of one's home, including public transportation and schools, face coverings continue to be required regardless of vaccination status.
California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly

A change that, according to CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky follows the science. She says despite the progress made people still need to use caution, especially those who aren't vaccinated.

"I think that people who were not inclined to wear a mask were not inclined to wear a mask before Thursday. In terms of the honor system, people have to be honest with themselves. You're protected if you're vaccinated. You're not if you're not vaccinated."

"We are asking people to be honest with themselves. If they are vaccinated and they are not wearing a mask, they are safe. If they are not vaccinated and they're not wearing a mask, they are not safe," said Walensky. "We are asking people to take their health into their own hands, to get vaccinated, and if they don't then they continue to be at risk. For the unvaccinated, our policy has not changed."

There are some exceptions to the mask guidance from the CDC. Businesses can still require customers to wear a mask and these rules don't apply to medical settings. That means if you're in a doctor's office or a hospital you'll still likely need to wear a mask.

When the CDC announced their guidance that fully vaccinated individuals could say goodbye to masks in most instances, some may have breathed a sigh of relief. Others, like the California Nurses Association, did not.

CNA’s Co-president Sandy Reding told 23ABC that it comes down to the science. With a virus that can be transferred through the air, mask-wearing she says is the single most effective way to stop the spread, even after a shot in the arm.

Reding has been on the medical frontlines in Bakersfield for over 30 years. She says the most recent fight against COVID-19 is not over yet, and the CNA disagrees with the CDC.

"I think we need to continue with the precautionary principle since there are so many unknowns about the variants and the efficacy of the vaccine to whether we are going to need a booster or not. It's also on the honor system," said Reding.

“As nurses, we’re scientists, and we’ve lived through the pandemic, and science says that masks are effective, vaccines are effective, but there are a lot of unknowns out there.”

One of those unknowns is the new variants, of which cases are on the rise. As of Monday, Kern County Public Health has confirmed 20 cases of the UK variant and two South Africa variants so far in the county.

“Being more virulent, faster to spread, and we’re seeing younger populations coming into the hospital to be hospitalized," said Reding. "So it’s very disappointing to us that the CDC has given this recommendation, and it's also confusing the public.”

Within the state, Michelle Corson with Kern County Public Health says fully vaccinated individuals don't have to wear masks outdoors if they are not in crowded settings. They can also gather indoors with other fully vaccinated individuals or with a single household of unvaccinated individuals in their homes if those individuals are not at high risk for the disease.

“So, California had already begun to lighten the masking mandate a bit for those fully vaccinated.”

Corson adding that 1 in 4 people in Kern County is fully vaccinated.

But Reding says, being fully vaccinated once may not being enough.

“We’ve already heard from Pfizer, I believe that saying we will be needing a booster vaccine. We know how effective the vaccines are - they’re very effective - but we need to see how long the immunity is for.”

Reding also says that the CNA does not agree with the CDC’s guidance of not testing fully vaccinated individuals who are sick. She says continued testing and contact tracing is key, even if the likelihood of transmission is lower.

As for the state of hospitals in California, Reding says even after, over a year, nurses are still to this day reusing their N95 respirators. She thinks there's a need for an emergency OSHA temporary standard for PPE as a shield against airborne transmission. And for one single use per patient.

In addition, according to Reding, not all pandemic experiences are equal. She finds it concerning that the CDC is recommending that fully vaccinated people can forgo mask-wearing in most instances. She says it can’t really be regulated and still only 36 percent of Americans have been fully vaccinated.

Plus, when it comes to the vaccine rollout and education about vaccines, communities of color have been disproportionately affected.

The CDC actually has reported recently that Hispanic or Latino and Black or African-American people are about three times as likely to be hospitalized and twice as likely to die from COVID-19 compared to white non-Hispanic people, which redding says is concerning for those communities locally. She says that getting them vaccinated is key.

Meanwhile, Sunday marked 995 new infections in California which has seen more than 3.6 million since the pandemic started. Currently, California's 7-day positivity rate is point 9 percent, and more than 35 million vaccine doses have been given.

So How Does Kern County Compare?

There were just 22 new cases of COVID-19 in Kern County Monday. Public health says Kern's positivity rate was 1.7 percent back on May 11. So far more than 500,000 doses of the vaccine have rolled out here.

23ABC asked viewers whether or not they think stores like Target, Costco, and Trader Joe's should drop mask requirements in stores.

Katrina says "Absolutely! Let people make their own decisions." Brandy commented, "If the mandate is dropped those worried do realize they can still choose to wear their masks right?" And Maranda says "No, especially in our town that is barely vaccinated. It’s the same story throughout the whole pandemic; some people don’t want to wear masks, don’t want to distance, don’t want to get vaccinated, and want to live in some fantasy land like covid isn’t real. That’s weird."

The CDC also says people still need to wear masks if they're unvaccinated and that includes people younger than 12 years old.

So What's the Impact on Schools?

According to the CDC, schools should enforce masking and social distancing measures until this school year ends to allow more students to get vaccinated. As far as colleges go, many universities are enacting a vaccination requirement to help reopen. The CSU system and UC schools will all require students to get vaccinated before returning to campus.

The fight over kids wearing masks to school hit home for a group of local moms and teachers Monday. They gathered in downtown Bakersfield to protest the mask mandate.

One mother at the event says her kids have rights too.

"We believe that the schools are safe and they should be able to go to school without these restrictions. And it's their right to do that."

Beth Nafzigger says that masks are a distraction and that most kids likely learn better without them on.

The Kern County superintendent of schools says all schools in Kern follow mask regulations from the public health department.