12 Responds: Is it safe to go maskless with COVID-19 variants out there?

Coronavirus

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Data released Monday by the Rhode Island Department of Health showed another 7,000 people became fully vaccinated against COVID-19 over the weekend, bringing the total to more than 572,000.

Last week, Gov. Dan McKee lifted the outdoor mask mandate for everyone in the state, regardless of vaccination status.

One viewer wrote into 12 Responds asking whether it’s safe to go maskless, even when fully vaccinated, due to the coronavirus variants circulating.

“We still believe that these vaccines, specifically the Pfizer and Moderna, are still effective to date against the variants that we have observed,” Dr. Philip Chan from the R.I. Department of Health explained.

Chan said people can still wear masks if it makes them more comfortable, especially while in a crowded indoor area.

“We do suspect the vaccine may be slightly less effective in people that have an immunocompromised system,” he added.

Chan said the exact duration of the vaccine’s protection has yet to be determined.

“A lot of experts do believe that they hopefully will last for years,” he said. “A strong antibody response for at least six months after they receive the vaccine.”

There are a couple reasons that a booster shot may be needed in the future, according to Chan.

“One is if the virus itself develops mutations that make the current vaccines no longer as effective,” he said.

Chan said Rhode Island’s data is in a good place right now.

On Monday, the Health Department reported no additional fatalities and 67 new positive cases since data was last released on Friday. Health officials also added 15 cases to the daily totals prior to that.

The data also showed that COVID-19 hospitalizations fell to 42, with five patients in the intensive care unit and six on ventilators.

Chan said if businesses ask for proof of the COVID-19 vaccine, it does not violate the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) laws.

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