On Tuesday evening, San Diego County officials announced their support for new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommending that people in high-risk areas wear masks indoors, regardless of their vaccination status.
The exact guidance says that high-risk areas are those with at least 50 new cases, per 100,000 people, in a single week. At last check, our county's number was 225 per 100,000, over two weeks.
The CDC said recent studies have shown that vaccinated people who contract COVID-19 have just as much of a viral load as those who are not vaccinated, and they can help spread the virus. Those vaccinated people may not show symptoms or get as sick, said Dr. David Pride, an infectious disease specialist at UC San Diego who is helping to develop a COVID-19 test for people in India.
Recent CDC studies show their viral load can be 1,000 times larger with the Delta variant than other strains.
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“That’s a big problem, because it basically means the average person has got a lot more virus than they did a year ago even," Pride said, "and we have to really be concerned, because the more virus you have, the more likely you are to spread it to other individuals. And the problem is that, eventually, you're going to find a vulnerable person. That vulnerable person may be someone who's elderly, it may be someone who's immunocompromised, it may be someone who was vaccinated but they didn't have the proper response to the vaccination."
Dr. Natasha Bhuyan, who practices family medicine with One Medical, said she often gets questions from patients about masking-up if they’re already vaccinated.
“What I’m telling people is, yes, right now, while we're seeing such a high spread of the virus, it's important to wear your mask," Bhuyan told NBC 7. "It doesn't mean that we're going to wear masks forever. It just means we need to wear masks right now until we can get more people vaccinated and curb the spread of the virus."
Doctors say in that, addition to the vaccine, masking is one of the best tools available to curb the spread of COVID-19. if people decide not to mask-up or get vaccinated, Bhuyan said, the delta variant could mutate.
"We have to remember that this virus is smart, and it's always trying to evade our immune system, and it's always trying to survive," Bhuyan said, "and the best way that we can combat that is to curb the spread of the virus through things like vaccination and through masking."
While nearly 70% of San Diego residents are fully vaccinated, Bhuyan noted that it’s important to remember that some neighborhoods or ZIP codes don't have vaccine rates as high as that figure.
That’s why Pride said it’s critical to have a coordinated response to get rid of the virus.
“If we continue to move forward with, you know, 60 or 70% of the population vaccinated, which leaves 30% unvaccinated, the virus will find them and continue to mutate," Pride said. "We don’t get rid of it unless we come together.”