Delta variant raises questions on if vaccinated people should wear masks indoors

Posted at 6:52 PM, Jul 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-07 00:11:09-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — They call it the most dangerous variant of COVID-19 yet, but we’re asking experts if this means a return to precautions of the past like wearing masks.

Dr. William Schaffner is an infectious disease specialist with Vanderbilt University Medical Center and says the Delta variant is serious because it is highly contagious. On Tuesday, he explained how it’s beginning to pick up speed in Tennessee.

“We have to remain alert because variants can still spring up that could evade the protection of our vaccines,” Schaffner said.

Some have asked if this warrants going back to masks, even for the already vaccinated. Dr. Schaffner says it may be a tall order knowing what it takes to get people on board with a life-saving vaccine.

“When you make a public health recommendation, it’s important to make them in such a way that the public understands them and by and large agrees with them,” Schaffner said.

Dr. Schaffner knows masks have proven effective in limiting the spread of the virus, but this precaution may be more suited for the most at-risk.

“There may indeed be some people who are older and have underlying illnesses that get more seriously ill. People who are immunocompromised may want to take the ‘belt and suspenders approach.' Get vaccinated and keep wearing the masks,” Schaffner said.

Tennessee may have ground to make up with only 38% fully vaccinated. Dr. Schaffner says when compared to Davidson County’s 47%, “our circumstances in Nashville would have to get distinctively worse before our health department would consider stepping back and asking for more social distancing and mask-wearing.”

His priority now is making sure more people get vaccinated and avoid hospitals if they can. When the winter respiratory season arrives, Dr. Schaffner says they plan to increase testing to determine where the virus remains.

All three major brands for the COVID-19 vaccine have promised nearly 90% efficacy against the Delta variant, but that’s only if you get both doses of the vaccine.

Meanwhile, the CDC has not changed its mask guidance since the Delta variant surfaced in the US. Masks are still required for public transportation and in some workplaces. Those ages 2 and older who are not fully vaccinated, should also wear a mask indoors.