CDC recommends vaccinated people in Summit County wear masks indoors |

CDC recommends vaccinated people in Summit County wear masks indoors

County officials waiting for Health Department to advise on local steps

The CDC recommends vaccinated people wear masks in indoor public settings in Summit County.
Park Record file photo

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday announced that fully vaccinated people in certain communities, including Summit County, should wear masks in public indoor settings.

The updated guidelines reverse recommendations the CDC made in May, before the more transmissible delta variant began surging in the United States. The change is a notable step backward in the fight against the virus, occurring in the middle of the summer when many hoped the pandemic’s disruptions to day-to-day life would be in the past.

“To maximize protection from the Delta variant and prevent possibly spreading it to others, wear a mask indoors in public if you are in an area of substantial or high transmission,” the agency’s updated guidelines state, written to advise fully vaccinated people.

The agency lists Summit County as an area of substantial transmission.

The CDC says that fully vaccinated people might choose to wear a mask regardless of the local level of transmission if they are at higher risk of developing a severe course of illness or if they live with people who are. That includes those who have compromised immune systems, other health conditions or who are unvaccinated.

The agency also says that, while so-called breakthrough infections occur only in a small proportion of fully vaccinated people, those people can still spread the virus.

The areas undergoing substantial or high transmission of the virus include more than 2/3 of the counties in the United States and all but five counties in Utah.

It is unclear whether the recommendations will result in new local restrictions or guidelines.

Summit County has higher vaccination rates than the rest of Utah, though there was a small surge in cases earlier this month. The growth in cases plateaued in mid-July and has been declining since, according to county data.

The county has been averaging about 20 cases per week over the last 10 weeks, or about three per day, according to county data. Over the last month, including the week that ended July 25, the average number per week jumped to about 26, or about 3.6 cases per day.

At the height of the local surge last winter, the county saw 434 cases during the week ending Jan. 3, 62 per day.

Health Director Rich Bullough indicated the CDC’s mask guidelines are sound policy, even if the situation in the county remains better than elsewhere.

“I support the recommendations,” Bullough said. “However, our cases in Summit remain quite low.”

Thus far, county officials have not indicated a willingness to return to the restrictive measures that were in place last winter. Those included mandating mask wearing and limiting the number of people who could congregate in public places like businesses.

Glenn Wright, who chairs the Summit County Council, said the council would listen to the advice of those at the Health Department.

“Our general policy is we will recommend whatever the Health Department recommends to us, and we have not heard from them yet,” Wright said. “… The five of us on the council are not the experts in this.”

The state Legislature over the course of the pandemic has reduced the power of local agencies to impose COVID-related restrictions. Wright said it was unclear what powers the council has to impose restrictions like a mask mandate.

“Right now my general understanding is we can’t do very much, but there may be some things we can do as to recommendations that don’t go to mandates. That’s a discussion we’ll have,” Wright said. “We’re waiting for some legal advice and some health advice.”

The Summit County Attorney’s Office did not immediately respond to a request seeking clarification about the county’s ability to impose a mask mandate.

The CDC lists Summit County in the substantial transmission level, along with 536 other counties nationwide. Including the more than 1,600 counties listed in the high transmission level, people in 67% of counties in the country are recommended to wear masks indoors in public places.

The agency uses two metrics to determine transmission level: the number of new cases per 100,000 residents in the previous seven days and the percent of tests that are positive for COVID-19.

According to CDC data, Summit County is in the substantial category for both metrics. It has 71.18 cases over the past seven days when adjusted to 100,000 people — that equates to 30 actual cases in the county — and the percent of tests in Summit County that are positive for COVID is 6.67%.

Both numbers differ from the data reported by the county, something that Summit County Epidemiologist Louise Saw indicated can likely be explained by lags in reporting the data, different methodology and other factors.

Most of Utah is in the high transmission category, including the most populous counties along the Wasatch Front. Morgan and Grand counties join Summit County in the substantial category. Wayne, Piute, Daggett and Rich counties in the low category and Sevier County in the moderate level are the only counties in Utah where the CDC does not recommend vaccinated people wear masks.

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