Federal and state officials provide mixed guidance on face masks

Officials are sending mixed recommendations about wearing face masks to combat the COVID-19 pandemic

New guidance on the best use of facial coverings to combat the COVID-19 pandemic has been released recently, and they may leave some people uncertain about what they should do.

For example, Florida’s Surgeon General Dr. Scott Rivkees revised his health advisory on April 29 and said fully vaccinated people should no longer be advised to wear face coverings or avoid social and recreational gatherings except in limited circumstances. He did not specify what those circumstances might be.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a person is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after they receive the second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or the one dose from Johnson & Johnson.

Rivkees noted that studies have shown that the vaccines protect individuals from COVID-19 and reduce hospitalizations and deaths caused by the virus.

“Continuing COVID-19 restrictions on individuals with no end in sight, including the long-term use of face coverings and withdrawal from social and recreational gatherings, pose a risk of adverse and unintended consequences,” the Surgeon General said.

However, in interim recommendations released on April 29 the CDC wasn’t as lenient as the state’s top medical official.

The CDC changed its recommendation to say fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear a mask outdoors, except in certain crowded settings and venues.

As far as indoor settings, the recommendations said that fully vaccinated people could visit with other fully vaccinated people indoors without wearing a mask or practicing social distancing. In addition, indoors visitation could occur with unvaccinated people, including children, from one other single household without the use of masks or social distancing.

With those two exceptions, the CDC continued to recommend that people wear a well-fitted mask in indoor public settings and when visiting people indoors that are not fully vaccinated especially if someone is at high risk for a severe COVID-19 infection.

Well-fitted masks should be worn when visiting unvaccinated people indoors from multiple households and people should continue to avoid large-size indoor gatherings.

Face masks still required on planes and buses

Despite the conflicting recommendations, one thing has not changed. The Transportation Security Administration extended its face mask requirement April 30 at airports, onboard commercial aircraft, over-the-road buses, commuter buses, which includes Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority buses, and rail systems through Sept. 13.

The CDC recently announced that fully-vaccinated people could safety travel within the United States; however the TSA will continue to require that travelers wear masks and recommends that they practice social distancing, wash their hands or use hand sanitizer.

“The federal mask requirement throughout the transportation system seeks to minimize the spread of COVID-19 on public transportation,” said Darby LaJoye, the senior official performing the duties of the TSA administrator in a press release. “Right now, about half of all adults have at least one vaccination shot and masks remain an important tool in defeating this pandemic.

No more state or local restrictions

While TSA can continue to require safety measures on public transportation, local governments in Florida no longer have that option.

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an executive order May 3 suspending all local restrictions related to COVID-19.

Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at sporter@tbnweekly.com.