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Doctor weighs in on relaxed mask mandates: ‘This is what we all hoped.’

Updated: Apr. 28, 2021 at 4:40 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - When it comes to removing masks indoors, state health officials say two-thirds of adults need to be vaccinated — but that change could be just months away.

President Biden announced the CDC’s decision to ease mask recommendations in some outdoor settings on Tuesday. The news came as a shock to many, but it was music to some people’s ears.

“I think it is long overdue,” said a Wilmington woman. “It’s been over a year, and I don’t think we’re in a pandemic anymore.”

Others were more skeptical of the news, saying they think Americans should continue wearing masks in all settings for at least six more months.

Doctors at New Hanover Regional Medical Center believe the new mandates usher in a new phase of the pandemic, and it’s the news many have been waiting for.

“The CDC has based this on incredibly good evidence — evidence that the vaccination is working much better than we ever hoped it would have,” said Dr. West Paul, senior vice president and chief clinical officer for NHRMC. “That has led us to say, ‘Listen — now for those vaccinated individuals, the risk of not wearing a mask in certain situations has dropped to incredibly low, so you don’t need a mask anymore.’ This is kind of what we all hoped.”

The CDC’s recent announcement to drop masks outdoors for fully vaccinated people was meant to be an incentive for those who have not been vaccinated.

“As more Americans get vaccinated and we still continue these rates, you’re going to see more and more easing of certain restrictions go on,” said Dr. Paul. “If there’s not that many people that have the virus, your risk goes down of contracting the virus so you don’t need to wear a mask. We’re not there yet.”

However, Dr. Paul reminds everyone that the virus is still rampant.

“There are still situations where the risk goes up for transmission,” said Dr. Paul. “The vaccines are great — they’re better than any vaccine we’ve really ever tried in probably the history of vaccinations. That being said, they’re not perfect. We do have breakthrough cases. Fortunately, in our region, we have seen no breakthrough cases that have been hospitalized.

Doctors say that getting to the point where the U.S. can end outdoor mask mandates is proof the vaccine is working, but if you’re not vaccinated, you’re still in harm’s way. That’s why the state is launching new programs to get to that two-thirds vaccinated number.

To do that, it’s going to take young people to get on board — a group that Dr. West Paul says has the most to lose as the pandemic continues.

“What we’re seeing now are young people,” said Dr. Paul. “Most of our patients that we’re admitting are under 65 — again, a testament that our 65-year-old population has been vaccinated pretty well and we’re not seeing that hospitalization anymore. It’s not over yet. It’s switched to a different population and that’s the population we need to get vaccinated.”

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