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No mask recommendation in Kent County just yet, doctors say

For those in West Michigan, there are no changes just yet because counties here are at a low and moderate level of transmission.

KENT COUNTY, Mich. — Updated guidelines from the CDC recommend that everyone should wear a mask indoors again in certain parts of the country, even if you're vaccinated.   

The announcement made Tuesday afternoon recommends masks for those who live in areas with substantial and high COVID-19 transmission rates. The CDC breaks down community spread into four levels: low, moderate, substantial and high.

In Kent County, there's a moderate risk level right now, which means no official changes, but doctors with Spectrum Health and Mercy Health say it's time to proceed with caution. 

"The CDC is taking steps and looking at what's happening on the ground," says Dr. Andrew Jameson, Division Chief of Infectious Diseases for Mercy Health.

Both Dr. Jameson and Dr. Matthew Denenberg, Vice President of Medical Affairs with Spectrum Health, say the CDC's recommendation is the right move because of how contagious the Delta variant is, regardless of vaccination status.

"That's where I think the CDC is concerned," Dr. Denenberg says. "If you have the virus and are carrying it, even if you don't get terribly sick, you're still spreading it."

For those in West Michigan, there are no changes just yet because counties here are at a low and moderate level of transmission.

"Our numbers are not crazy right now," Dr. Jameson says. "If we double down with vaccinations, and we do a good job in our community, we can avoid this."

As for the Delta variant, there have been two cases reported in Kent County and one in Ottawa County. It's because of its high levels across the country that led to the CDC changing its guidance from two months ago on masking for fully vaccinated Americans.

"When they said people could take their masks off if vaccinated, only 1% of cases was the Delta variant, and now we're at 83%," Dr. Denenberg says.

When it comes to the upcoming school year, there are some mixed opinions on whether every student and teacher should mask up.

"Even if they don't get sick or hospitalized, every time they carry that virus they allow it to mutate again," Dr. Denenberg says. "And eventually we could end up with a variant that's resistant to vaccines and we could start all over again with where we were last year."

"If one district has almost no cases and the other has a bunch, why are we holding them to the same standard?" Dr. Jameson says. "We could have a more nuanced approach and I think people will respond to that kind of approach."

Both doctors emphasize that the hotspots popping up across the country could make their way here, especially as people travel this summer. This could mean trouble for West Michigan if cases of the more contagious Delta variant spread here in the fall and people spend more time indoors.

It is up to state and local leaders to bring back mask mandates and advisories if the region hits either a substantial or high risk level. Earlier today, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer says she doesn't anticipate another mask mandate in Michigan.

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