Despite CDC recommendation, RI still deciding whether to drop mask mandate for fully vaccinated residents


PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) ─ Even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its mask-wearing guidelines for fully-vaccinated Americans Thursday, one of Rhode Island’s top doctors tells 12 News they’re still mulling whether to continue the requirement at the state level.

“We need time,” R.I. Department of Health Medical Director Dr. James McDonald said during his weekly interview on 12 News Now at 4.

McDonald said he expects to meet with other state health officials Thursday evening to discuss the CDC’s new guidelines and to prepare their recommendations for Gov. Dan McKee.

“The larger message is this: If you’re fully vaccinated, you really aren’t as risk of getting the disease, so it’s a really effective vaccine. But more importantly, you’re not really at risk of transmitting the virus,” he said.

McDonald believes the CDC didn’t lift the mask mandate for fully vaccinated people immediately because they were unsure if the virus could still be spread by those who are immunized.

“We didn’t know where the science was when we first started vaccinating people,” he said. “But we do know where it is now … This is a good time to go get the vaccine and we’re ready to give it to you.”

When asked whether people will have to prove they’ve been fully vaccinated while in public, he believes that it be by the honor system, but acknowledged the details are still being worked out both nationally and locally.

“I personally keep a digital image on my phone, but I really hope I’m not being asked to produce it every five minutes for people,” he said. “The honor system has worked really well in Rhode Island.”

McDonald said the state’s health experts will work on updating mask guidelines as quickly as they can, but couldn’t say exactly when that would happen.

“Obviously it’s important,” McDonald said. “When the CDC makes a national recommendation like this in a pandemic that’s been going on for 15 months, people want to hear what’s going on [locally].”

“Keep in mind though, the Rhode Island Department of Health – we’re your doctor,” he continued. “They don’t know our local data like we do, so we have to look at our local data and what makes the most sense to keep Rhode Island the most safe.”

The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) recently expanded the use of Pfizer’s vaccine to children as young as 12. When asked whether kids under the age of 12 would need to keep wearing their masks, McDonald said absolutely.

“Unfortunately, yes. The mask mandate is really all about who can transmit the disease and who’s going to acquire the disease,” McDonald said. “At this point, the unvaccinated, no matter what their age is, will still need a mask.”

But McDonald said he expects the FDA to approve the use of Pfizer’s vaccine for kids that age group later this year.

“I’m hearing August or September, but we’ll have to wait and see,” he said.

When asked about the wide range of symptoms people have experienced after receiving a dose of the vaccine, McDonald said it affects everyone differently.

“It’s just your body responding to the vaccine, so it’s nothing to be worried about,” McDonald said.

“The three McDonald children all got their second dose of the vaccine this week. One had a fever, one was tired and one just had a sore left arm,” he continued. “So there you go. I have three kids who had three different reactions and today, they’re all fine and dandy.”

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