In recent weeks, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) have issued updated guidance on face mask usage. In recent days, the Iowa Legislature has enacted a new statutory ban on local municipalities and school districts enacting their own mask usage mandates.
These rapidly changing guidelines, coupled with the fatigue of a global pandemic now entering its fifteenth month, have left many Iowans understandably confused and frustrated about how best to protect themselves and their families from COVID-19. Iowa’s physician community understands your confusion and frustration, and stands ready to help you make sense of it all.
It is important to remember that while the local mandates are no longer in place, this new law does not prohibit individual mask use and still allows for private businesses to make their own decisions. If you are not yet fully vaccinated, masking in public settings, including schools, is one of the most effective ways to protect yourself and your family until the majority of Iowans are vaccinated.
Fully Vaccinated Individuals
Protecting you and your family starts with getting vaccinated as soon as possible, if you are eligible and able. Vaccine supply is now plentiful, widely available across the state, and approved down to age 12. Once you are fully vaccinated, the CDC and IDPH advise that a mask is no longer necessary in most settings to help protect you from COVID-19. Of note, in healthcare settings, masks are still recommended.
Full protection from COVID-19 occurs approximately two weeks following the completion of your vaccination series. If you have received the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccines, this means a two-dose series. Between these two doses, you are not yet fully protected. You should continue to wear a mask in public settings. Similarly for the two weeks after receiving these or the single-dose Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine, you should continue to wear a mask in public settings.
On May 10th, the Pfizer vaccine was approved for use in 12-15 year-olds. Currently, there are no COVID-19 vaccines approved to protect children under the age of 12. While infections among most children are less severe, some have seen severe complications. Children with even a mild infection are still able to transmit the disease to more vulnerable populations. We are also still learning about the long-term side effects of even mild infection. Until vaccines are approved for them, children ages 2-11 should wear a mask in public indoor spaces to protect themselves and those around them. The CDC continues to recommend children wear masks in school unless fully protected by vaccination- two weeks after their second dose is received.
A return to a more normal daily routine is on the horizon. For many of us who are now fully vaccinated, this return has already begun to occur. Adapting to the final phases of the COVID-19 pandemic can be stressful and confusing. As we move together toward a more normal tomorrow, we must exercise grace and understanding for the individual, small business, or family who is navigating mask usage in the manner that makes sense for their unique circumstances. Continue to look to your local physician as a trusted source to help make sense of evolving public health guidance, and encourage your friends and neighbors to join you in becoming vaccinated.
Together, we will emerge stronger from this pandemic.