COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – In an interview on NBC’s Meet the Press this week, one of the nation’s top doctors hinted at possible changes to federal mask guidelines. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID), responded to questions about when fully vaccinated Americans could stop covering their faces in public.
“This is something that, as we get more information, it’s going to be pulling back that you won’t have to,” he told Chuck Todd during the interview.
Dr. Fauci went on to explain the changes likely will not happen until scientists know more about the vaccines’ protection against emerging COVID-19 variants and the likelihood of putting vulnerable individuals at risk.
“If you don’t have a mask you might inadvertently infect [vulnerable individuals],” he said. “Now, there’s a small risk of that, but it’s there. The other thing is that there may be variants that are circulating.”
“We’re not there yet. Public health recommendations are normally based on what’s happening right now,” said Dr. Joseph Gastaldo, an infectious disease specialist at OhioHealth.
As of Monday morning, the Ohio Department of Health qualified Franklin County as purple level 4. This is the state’s highest level on its COVID-19 health advisory system. The ODH vaccination chart showed 37.4 percent of Ohioans had started the vaccination process and 26.4 percent were fully vaccinated.
Dr. Gastaldo explained the combination of low case numbers and high vaccination rates will be the key to easing restrictions.
“We’ll know when we get there when our positivity numbers bottom out,” he said. “They’re not bottoming out. They’re still going up. We’re seeing more patients in the hospital. We’re seeing more patients in the hospital at OhioHealth.”
Data shows fully vaccinated individuals are significantly less likely to contract and spread the virus. Preliminary information suggests the available vaccines are effective against the most common strain, the B.1.1.7 Variant, and scientists are evaluating how well the shots protect against other emerging variants.
Dr. Gastaldo added vaccine hesitancy may be the next hurdle for health providers rushing to vaccinate as many people as quickly as possible.
“Once we get enough shots into peoples’ arms, as a country, and as a state, our positivity numbers will bottom out. They’re not bottoming out, they’re still going up,” he said.