With the Delta variant rapidly spreading both throughout the nation and in certain parts of Maryland, former Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Secretary Dr. Joshua Sharfstein Wednesday emphasized the importance of getting vaccinated against the novel coronavirus.
His remarks come just one day after the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) updated its guidance to recommend that even people who are fully vaccinated against the virus should wear masks when they are indoors. The CDC specifically tailored the guidance to the nearly two-thirds of U.S. counties where “substantial or high transmission” rates are prevalent.
Shortly following news of the updated guidance, the Montgomery and Prince George’s county public school systems decided to require masks for all students and faculty for all indoor activities for the upcoming school year. Frederick County Public Schools are reportedly considering following suit.
“This variant is so infectious that it is very likely that you will get COVID if you do not get vaccinated,” Sharfstein told MarylandReporter.com. “If people decide not to get vaccinated, they are essentially deciding to get COVID.”
Sharfstein poured cold water on the popular misconception that people who have had COVID have antibodies that prevent them from becoming reinfected with the virus.
“It is like playing Russian roulette. For some people that is true. But for others it is not true. And you do not know whether or not you are one of those people who is still susceptible. That is why it is a much safer bet to get vaccinated.”
As for the CDC’s updated guidance on masks, “it reflects the reality that the Delta variant is very transmissible,” Sharfstein said. Moreover, Sharfstein said he believes it is “possible” that it may be necessary for the guidance to become a mandate if the variant continues to spread at its current pace.
But how likely are mask mandates to return?
Del. Stephanie Smith, D-Baltimore City, said all options should remain on the table.
“I think that we have to go where the science leads us. When you think about the states and the localities that have tried their very best to adhere to where the science is taking them, versus just some layman’s opinion, they have fared better. This is definitely a situation where personal choices can impact the health and well being of others.”
Smith added: “People who are failing to either get vaccinated and/or mask in appropriate instances have really worsened the exposure for all of us, because Dr. Fauci referenced recently that higher levels of vaccination would have stymied the development and proliferation of the Delta variant in-and-of-itself, and other subsequent variants that may come.”
And what about vaccine mandates?
Sen. Johnny Ray Salling, R-Baltimore County, said that now that the federal government is soon expected to announce that all of its employees must get vaccinated, it is conceivable that Maryland could “possibly” follow suit.
However, Salling went on to say that such a policy would probably be “unenforcable” and that he “hopes” the state does not go down that road. Salling also said that because Maryland is “doing better” than most of the other states in the nation in terms of vaccinations, that mandating them is simply “not necessary.”
Maryland’s positivity rate is 2.45%, as of Wednesday morning according to the state’s Department of Health. That number is well within CDC recommended guidelines for containment. And an estimated 77% of people in Maryland have received at least one dose of vaccine, which exceeds the national average of about 58%.
However, Maryland still has several jurisdictions where the positivity rate is rapidly rising due to the variant. And those jurisdictions tend be areas where a higher percentage of the population is unvaccinated. Some of the areas seeing a recent spike in infections include Cecil, Wicomico, Garrett and Worcester counties.