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Carney lifts mask mandate for those vaccinated

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Gov. John Carney said Friday that he would not be changing Delaware’s mask mandate until next week at the earliest as he reviews the new guidance. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

WILMINGTON – One day after federal health officials announced that it was safe for vaccinated Americans to not wear masks or socially distance in most public spaces, Gov. John Carney followed suit by ordering the same guidance in Delaware effective May 21. Carney had been noncommittal on lifting the mask mandate when asked early Friday, but made the change to the order later in the day.

“It’s clear that the COVID-19 vaccines are extremely safe and protective against infection and serious illness,” said Gov. Carney in a statement to the media. “Delawareans who are fully vaccinated have significant protection against this virus and can feel comfortable getting back to the things they loved to do before this pandemic. For our neighbors who aren’t vaccinated, the message is clear. The COVID-19 vaccine is the best protection we have against the virus. Getting vaccinated is the best way to protect you and those you love. In the meantime, Delawareans who are unvaccinated, including children, should continue to wear masks in public places.”

The surprise Thursday announcement by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was a milestone in the nation’s response to the COVID-19. Driven by increasing scientific studies backing the effectiveness of the three vaccines approved for public use, the federal agency now only recommends the wearing of masks by vaccinated individuals in hospitals, nursing homes, homeless shelters, prisons as well as on public transportation and in their hubs.

“We have all longed for this moment,” Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, the CDC director, said at a White House news conference Thursday. “If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic.”

The guidance may convince many Americans who have so far resisted getting vaccinated to now do so. More than 45% of Americans have received at least one of a vaccine, but only about a third are considered fully vaccinated, or two weeks after the one-dose Johnson & Johnson shot or the second dose of either Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines.

Delaware has fairly similar results, with about 45% of the state’s population have received at least one dose and 35% having been fully vaccinated. Discounting children under age 16, who only became eligible for the Pfizer vaccine over the age of 12 this week, more than 55% of Delaware’s adult population has received at least one dose, as of Friday.

While Delaware’s positive cases have trended lower as vaccinations rise, the state is also beginning to see a fall in interest in receiving the vaccine, as most states are.

The new CDC guidance applies only to those who are vaccinated, but without any way to tell who is vaccinated aside from checking a record, it will be difficult for businesses to continue to enforce mask mandates. Some major companies, like Home Depot, have said they will continue to enforce mask wearing for now.

Carney faced calls from the Delaware Restaurant Association to repeal the mask mandate for those vaccinated shortly after CDC’s Thursday announcement. The industry has been the one most dramatically affected by the government restrictions imposed to stem the tide of the virus’s transmission.

“We urge Governor John Carney to immediately lift these mandates,” said Carrie Leishman, president and CEO of the DRA, in a Thursday statement. “It’s time to follow the science and allow all vaccinated Delawareans the freedom and choice to enjoy their favorite public spaces and small businesses once again.”

While the CDC guidance does not overrule state’s restrictions, for many governors, especially Democrats like Carney who have consistently followed federal health officials’ guidance in their policies, it made their positions much more difficult to square keeping restrictions in place.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf moved Thursday to lift the mask mandate for public spaces for those who have been vaccinated, while New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo were reportedly still reviewing their plans. Maryland won’t reportedly lift its indoor mask mandate until the state has reached a 70% vaccination rate.

Editor’s Note: This article was updated following Gov. Carney’s announcement to remove the mask mandate for vaccinated individuals effective May 21.

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