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“It’s a recipe for a resurgence to occur”: Top epidemiologist says mask mandate lifted too soon

Published: Nov. 12, 2021 at 7:59 PM EST
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - The decision by the New Hanover County Health and Human Services Board to lift the mask mandate wasn’t made quickly. There was much debate before the board took a vote. One of the top epidemiologist in the region, however, believes the call was made too soon.

“It’s just premature,” says Dr. Paul Kamitsuka. “In this community, there are still many people who have yet to be vaccinated against COVID-19. And in addition there are still many people who have yet to get their booster shots. We are living in a moment where, yes, locally the numbers are down, but this week the numbers are up compared to the previous week in 29 of 50 states across the United States.”

Dr. Kamitsuka is the chief epidemiologist at NHRMC/Novant Health and a lead infectious disease physician at Wilmington Health. He believes ditching the masks right before the holidays is what he calls a recipe for a resurgence.

" I think that is very much a potential concern,” he says. “As we get colder weather and the holidays — people crowding together — gathering together, I think the temptation for all of us is to take our masks off. But as the track record of this pandemic has shown us over and over again, when we start to do that prematurely, before we have widespread immunity against this virus, you will see a resurgence of new cases.”

Dr. Kamitsuka says he can relate to the frustrations of wearing a mask but believes the annoyance of the face covering is a small price to pay when it can save lives.

“None of us like to wear masks — me included, but it is a common sense protection in addition to vaccination,” Dr. Kamitsuka says. “I’m encouraging everybody and all health care practitioners to continue to encourage patients to wear masks in indoor settings like grocery stores and so forth.”

He goes on to say, “I view new cases of COVID these days as really a tragedy. We continue to see people — young people — die of COVID in our community. For the most part, it’s totally preventable.”

Dr. Kamitsuka says over 95 percent of people dying today in this community are unvaccinated.

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