Local health director says businesses not requiring masks should consider other safety measures as COVID-19 cases rise


SUFFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Businesses not looking to enforce recommended indoor face mask-wearing can always help curb the spread of COVID-19 by using other proven health mitigations, a Virginia Health Department director said.

Those measures include encouraging all employees to get the coronavirus vaccine.

Dr. Todd Wagner, who leads the Western Tidewater Health District, said with the recent increase in COVID-19 cases —  fueled by the spread of the delta variant — the number one question he is receiving is whether vaccinated people need to wear masks out in public.

Just the same, several business owners want to know if they should require it.

Earlier this week, the CDC recommended all people, vaccinated or not, should wear masks in indoor public settings in areas where there is high community spread. Areas across the commonwealth have “high” or “substantial” spread, including most of Hampton Roads.

Neither Virginia nor North Carolina remain in a state of emergency related to the coronavirus pandemic, however, both governors are encouraging — but not requiring — that people follow the CDC guidance.

The Washington Post confirmed unpublished data from the CDC, which shows that fully vaccinated people might spread the delta variant as easily as unvaccinated people. The data also shows the variant causes more severe sickness than others.

“We’re seeing a lot of viral load carriage in even folks that are vaccinated,” Wagner said. “Masking even with even vaccinated individuals is helpful.”

However, Wagner is well aware of the controversial and politically charged nature of face coverings and how some businesses may not want to take that leap.

He said many of the other methods used during the pandemic should be considered.

“Something else I suggest to the businesses. You know, definitely work to get their employees vaccinated,” Wagner said. “Anything that they can do within their businesses to try to externalize their business. If there are outdoor options, if there are takeaway options. You know it’s all time distance and shielding right?”

He said bringing back capacity limits indoors, social distancing dining tables and minimizing foot traffic can also help.

“Whatever we can do to provide parts of those layers of approach will help,” Wagner said.

He understands people are frustrated with possibly having to self-impose new restrictions even after taking the vaccine. He said keep in mind that more than 16 months into the pandemic, so much is still new.

“Still a novel virus. We’re learning, more and more every day,” Wagner said. “As variants present themselves, it’s almost like a new textbook handed to you.”

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