Health officials evaluate COVID-19 protocols in the Wabash Valley as the CDC releases new mask guidelines

Local News

TERRE HAUTE/KNOX CO. Ind. (WTWO/WAWV) — After the release of new CDC guidelines and new variants of COVID-19 being detected locally, health officials are reviewing mitigation strategies in the Wabash Valley.

Per the CDC, masks should be worn indoors where there are high virus transmission rates, even if someone is fully vaccinated.

Both Knox and Vigo County have seen an increase in COVID-19 positivity rates and hospitalizations. While neither area has a mask mandate, officials said this is a determining moment on what the next few months may look like.

Knox County jumped from a blue county to orange within a matter of weeks and has a positivity rate of 7.7%. The Indiana Department of Health has confirmed Knox County has seven Delta variant cases and one Gamma variant case, a strain that originated in Brazil.

“The variants we are seeing are more contagious and the vaccine is more important then ever,” Dr. Alan Stewart with the Knox County Health Department said. “Masking in public places in a confined area is important again, more than it was say two months ago. This is more urgent now.”

Stewart added that 60% of Knox County is vaccinated. While masks are not being mandated within the county, Stewart said he encourages masks being mandated in schools.

“If they don’t mandate masks, they will not be following guidelines,” Stewart said. “I consider that to be potentially dangerous.”

Between July 18 and 24, Vigo County saw 57 positive COVID-19 cases. The county has also confirmed a total of seven Delta variant cases and one Alpha strain case.

Vigo County Health Department Educator Roni Elder said conversations with the Vigo County School Corporation are ongoing about what the upcoming school year will look like.

“Kids not being able to be vaccinated is a big talking point,” Elder said. “What’s going to happen before school starts? That’s still a couple of weeks away. Our numbers could change. Our hospitalizations, our deaths, those are all things we are keeping an eye on for those guidelines. Whatever decision that’s made will be in the best interest of everyone.”

Click below to see VCSC’s latest comment on the new CDC guidelines.

Vigo County is currently sitting at a 44.1% vaccination rate, but Elder said she would like to see those numbers increase.

“We are at a point where the variants are contagious and may try to fight the vaccine,” Elder said. “We need to reach a higher percentage to reach herd immunity.”

With yet another change in guidelines regarding when to wear or not wear masks, Dr. Stewart said he acknowledges people may become vaccine hesitant after this new development by the CDC.

“The vaccine is not completely effective in stopping the virus,” Stewart said. “If it’s 88% preventative there’s still a 12% chance you get it. The vaccine will reduce the symptoms you get and how you feel. The vaccine continues to be the best way to stop Coronavirus. This pandemic is just showing how science evolves.”

Vigo County will continue to enforce current mitigation strategies in place, but Elder added that newly released guidelines have opened up conversations among health officials on what to do next.

As residents continue to adapt to new guidelines released, Indiana State University student Marley Ferres said she puts safety first when thinking about wearing a mask.

“As a nursing student I’ve seen how COVID-19 has impacted people directly,” Ferres said. “I think when it comes to masks, people can be uneducated and not know the best decision to make. I would say get vaccinated if it benefits your health and those around you. Use your best judgement and try to keep everyone around you safe.” reached out to Indiana State University to see if the new CDC guidelines would impact the upcoming academic year. The school sent a statement saying:

“We are waiting to see if there will be guidance from the state before commenting on our policy.”

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