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Mask mandates may return
Dale Humphrey.jpg
Dale Humphrey

They weren’t popular the first time around, even hated by some in Warren County.

It’s doubtful many opinions have changed as health officials brace Americans for the possibility of more mask mandates if the highly transmissible delta COVID variant continues to spread across the U.S.

“It’s going to surge in areas of low vaccination rates if it gets here,” said Saint Thomas River Park CEO Dale Humphrey. “I’m as sick of this as everyone else is, but we have to prepare ourselves for a possible surge. If people will get vaccinated, it will definitely help. The vaccine is working as it’s been intended to work. It’s protecting the population with no ill effects. I wish everyone would get vaccinated.” 

The return of COVID is a painful thought just as the world is trying to emerge from a pandemic that has laid to rest over 4 million across the globe.

The World Health Organization has warned of major delta variant outbreaks in the U.S. this fall. Health officials say wearing a mask may once again become commonplace in an effort to slow the virus

In Tennessee, Gov. Bill Lee never leveled a mask mandate, instead calling on Tennesseans to take personal responsibility to stem the spread.

However, many local governments opted to enact a mask mandate such as Metro Nashville and Warren County, to name two. While a mask mandate was in place, there was never any enforcement mechanism and many residents opted to ignore it.

Humphrey said the delta variant has become the dominant strain in America and it has troubling potency. He said the delta variant only takes about four days to completely infect, where the regular COVID virus takes about six days.

The delta variant is also much more powerful, Humphrey noted, with the potential to do greater damage to the respiratory system. This means more people are in danger.

“As much as I hate to say it, we may see some younger people get sick and die,” said Humphrey. “The best defense is to get vaccinated. In recent months, no one has been hospitalized in the entire Saint Thomas healthcare system who has been vaccinated. The only hospitalizations have been from people who have not been vaccinated. That tells me the vaccine works.”

Health experts say the delta variant will hit states with the lowest vaccination rates the hardest — unless those states reintroduce mask rules, capacity limits and other public health measures they’ve largely rolled back in recent months.

With new mutations discovered every few weeks, many scientists now predict COVID will continue circulating around the world for at least the next two to three years, requiring nations to reinstitute public health measures on an as-needed basis for the foreseeable future. 

Authorities in Australia, South Africa and Asia have recently reintroduced curfews or other measures to curb rising delta outbreaks. Japan just declared a coronavirus state of emergency in Tokyo and banned spectators at the Olympics. 

Outbreaks across the world are giving Americans a preview of what may come this fall, similar to what happened the first time around when the virus began its spread from China and made its way here.

“We are heading for a very dangerous fall, with large swaths of the country still unvaccinated, a surging delta variant, and people taking off their masks,” said Lawrence Gostin, director of the World Health Organization’s Collaborating Center on National and Global Health Law.

There are about 1,000 counties in the U.S. that have COVID vaccination rates of less than 30%, mostly located in the Southeast and Midwest, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said. Warren County is right at that threshold.

Humphrey said COVID hospitalizations in Tennessee reached an all-time high of 879 on April 20, 2021. Statewide hospitalizations dipped to 195 on July 4, but had climbed back to 242 by July 7.