AURORA | The Tri-County Health Department is recommending that all residents wear masks in public indoor places regardless of vaccination status until the spread of the Delta variant of COVID-19 across the metro area slows, according to a Friday afternoon news release.
The direction follows updated recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week that people in areas of the country where there is significant transmission of the Delta variant resume wearing masks inside.
“With the highly spreadable Delta variant surging across the Metro Denver area and vaccination coverage increasing slowly, Tri-County Health Department endorses the new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about wearing facemasks,” the release said. “Specifically, TCHD recommends that all persons wear masks in school settings regardless of vaccination status and, as long as we have rising rates of community transmission, that everyone including fully vaccinated persons wear a mask in public indoor settings.”
The Delta variant is about twice as transmissible as previous strains of COVID-19. Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties are all in the “substantial transmission” range for the variant, the release said, meaning that seven-day incidence rates are above 50 infections per 100,000 people. The rolling average over the past two weeks indicates Adams County is at about 150 cases per 100,000 people; Arapahoe County is at 122 cases per 100,000 people; and Douglas County is at about 115 cases per 100,000 people.
The region is recording less than a death a day, according to Tri-county records.
Though it recommends mask wearing as a preventative measure, Tri-County emphasized that getting vaccinated is the key to ending the spread of the virus for good.
“We are in a race against time to get more people vaccinated before Delta spreads even further or new even more contagious variants emerge,” Tri-County director Dr. John Douglas said in the release.
Currently, 71.2% of Tri-County residents have received at least one vaccine dose, and 64% are fully vaccinated, according to TCHD’s online dashboard.
The release said that wearing masks in schools is “particularly important because there are so many interactions in schools between vaccinated and unvaccinated people,” but that “universal masking should be understood not as a requirement but as a strong science-based recommendation.”
Aurora Public Schools said that it would require employees who have not been vaccinated to wear masks but would not mandate masks for students, though it strongly recommends them for unvaccinated students.
On Tuesday district spokesperson Corey Christiansen said that the district was not changing its plans following the updated CDC guidance, though the district’s message noted that a mask mandate for students might have to be implemented “at some point during the year.”
The Cherry Creek School District has not yet released its plan for the next school year, though a spokesperson previously told the Sentinel it would be released sometime this week.
In a new development, reported Friday by the Associated Press, scientists who studied a big COVID-19 outbreak in Massachusetts concluded that vaccinated people who got so-called breakthrough infections carried about the same amount of the coronavirus as those who did not get the shots.
Federal health officials on Friday released details of the research, which was key in this week’s decision by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to recommend that vaccinated people return to wearing masks indoors in parts of the U.S. where the delta variant is fueling infection surges.
The findings have the potential to upend past thinking about how the disease is spread. Previously, vaccinated people who got infected were thought to have low levels of virus and to be unlikely to pass it to others. But the new data shows that is not the case with the delta variant.
The outbreak in Provincetown — a seaside tourist spot on Cape Cod in the county with Massachusetts’ highest vaccination rate — has so far included more than 900 cases. About three-quarters of them were people who were fully vaccinated.
Leaked internal documents on breakthrough infections and the delta variant suggest the CDC may be considering other changes in advice on how the nation fights the coronavirus, such as recommending masks for everyone and requiring vaccines for doctors and other health workers.
The documents were obtained by The Washington Post. As they note, COVID-19 vaccines are still highly effective against the delta variant at preventing serious illness and death.
People with breakthrough infections make up an increasing portion of hospitalizations and in-hospital deaths among COVID-19 patients, coinciding with the spread of the delta variant, according to the leaked documents.
The CDC report is based on about 470 COVID-19 cases linked to the Provincetown festivities, which included densely packed indoor and outdoor holiday events at bars, restaurants, guest houses and rental homes.
Researchers ran tests on a portion of them and found roughly the same level of virus in those who were fully vaccinated and those who were not.
Three-quarters of the infections were in fully vaccinated individuals. Among those fully vaccinated, about 80% experienced symptoms with the most common being cough, headache, sore throat, muscle aches and fever.