Residents want to keep mask-wearing optional

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MERIDEN — Without a formal mask mandate, infectious disease control experts are hoping people vaccinated or not would use good judgment about wearing masks in public.

With the highly transmissible COVID-19 delta variant spreading across the country and in the state, public health experts have strongly advised both vaccinated and unvaccinated people to wear masks in indoor public space.

The state Department of Public Health on Sunday issued an alert that strongly recommends all Connecticut residents over 2 years old wear face masks in indoor public spaces, whether they’re vaccinated or not, given the rapid increase in COVID-19 cases over the past two weeks because of the delta variant.

The warning came as all but one of the state’s eight counties were classified by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as having “substantial transmission” of COVID-19.

DPH on Sunday also urged both vaccinated and unvaccinated residents at high risk for complications of COVID-19, such as individuals with diabetes, compromised immune systems, pregnancy, obesity and asthma, to avoid large indoor gatherings that could include a mix of vaccinated and unvaccinated people.

‘Risk assessment’

But mandating mask-wearing again after vaccines have been in place and the infection rate dropped significantly can be difficult, said Dr. James Cardon, chief clinical integration officer for Hartford HealthCare.

“You have to do a risk assessment,” Cardon told reporters during a Zoom meeting Monday. “You could be a vector. If I’m walking into a crowded environment, I’m wearing a mask. If I’m around good friends and you know they’ve been vaccinated, it’s different. This is something we have to factor into our thinking.”

Many of the lunchtime customers at Tom’s Place in South Meriden Monday said they would wear a mask again if mandated, but feel it should be a personal choice.

“If I have to, I’ll do it,” said Lenny Scenti. “The sickness comes left and right. It’s protecting the people, that’s all they’re doing.”

Most of the people who visit the small eatery are over 65, they said, and vaccinated, so they feel relatively safe not wearing a mask. But several customers expressed anger over people who refuse the vaccine because it leads to more infections and variants.

“These people (not getting vaccinated) are putting us behind,” said Peter Novicelli.  “It’s not just about them, it’s about other people.”  

Novicelli recalls his childhood days when children were told to get a shot, they lined up in the gymnasium. He doesn’t understand the current vaccine hesitancy. As for wearing a mask, he’ll do so if he goes somewhere and it’s required, he said.

‘I got lucky’

Julian Garcia said he knows most of the people at the places he visits, but will wear a mask if he goes somewhere unfamiliar and isn’t comfortable. 

Bill Beedoe caught COVID-19 in April 2020 and spent 54 days at Hartford Hospital with 19 of them on a ventilator. 

“I got lucky,” Beedoe said. “They told my wife they didn’t think I would make it. I’ll wear one if they ask for a mask. Six or seven people died on the floor I was on. When it was my turn, I got the shot.”

Beedoe called those who don’t get the shot “foolish, selfish,” and said they risk spreading and getting COVID themselves without the shot. 

Jim Brown of Cheshire is on dialysis and vaccinated. After wearing a mask 12 hours a week for his treatments, he’s done with masks.

“No more masks,” Brown said. “This is America, land of the free, home of the brave. I got my shots, I ain’t wearing any masks. I’ll eat outside if I have to. I got my shot, but people should have a choice. I got the vaccine after my friend died. He got sick, two weeks later, he was gone.”

John Pierlioni has lost friends to the coronavirus, is vaccinated and will wear a mask to protect others, he said. But he still has suspicions about the medical and pharmaceutical communities.

“Sometimes, I think the rich want to get richer,” Pierlioni said. 

Owner April Ouelette agrees mask-wearing should be a personal choice.

“It should be optional,” Ouelette said. “Most people in here have gotten the vaccine.”

Highly contagious

Studies have shown that vaccinated people can transmit the delta variant but at a lower rate than the unvaccinated, leading the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to recommend that vaccinated people mask up in public. 

At Hartford HealthCare, doctors are seeing some asymptomatic cases among vaccinated patients who are tested before procedures. In those instances, they counsel the patient’s family members to get tested, get vaccinated and advise the patient they are contagious. The infection rates are much lower than before the vaccines were readily available, but the delta variant is 40 to 60 percent more contagious.

Doctors see the vaccines as the best way out of the pandemic and point to data to prove the vaccines’ success  Less than .001% of those fully vaccinated have experienced a fatal breakthrough case. Less than .004% of those fully vaccinated had to be hospitalized. 

“This thing is infectious, it is more infectious,” said Dr. Ulysses Wu.  “But if we don’t get this under control, there is another Greek letter coming down the pike.”

mgodin@record-journal.com203-317-2255Twitter: @Cconnbiz

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