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Tampa Bay area doctor thinks CDC should have set benchmarks regarding masks, social distancing

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Posted at 5:49 PM, May 17, 2021

TAMPA, Fla. — For the last year, masks have become a part of our identity.

“I think it’s gonna be a process for everybody to get used to the idea that in some situations if you’re fully vaccinated, you don’t have to wear a mask,” said Dr. Michael Teng, an associate professor of medicine at USF Health.

And that’s what the CDC suggests for folks who are fully vaccinated. They can go back to doing activities they did pre-pandemic without a mask and without social distancing. It’s guidance Dr. Teng isn’t quite sure of.

“The guidance seems to be sort of in a bit of a vacuum,” he said.

In an ideal world, Dr. Teng says only people who are fully vaccinated would ditch the masks, but that’s not the case in the real world and most stores plan to trust the honor system. Dr. Teng says we shouldn't forget about those who can’t get vaccinated.

But, he does get why so many stores are dropping their restrictions.

“It’s very understandable that companies don’t want their employees to have to take the risk of being the mask police because we know that some of those and encounters get very heated,” he said.

Dr. Teng thinks the CDC’s reasoning for the new guidelines is vague.

“Give them the information, say why you did this,” he said. “I would have preferred benchmarks. For example, your state has reached 50 percent vaccination.”

In Florida, only 35% of people have been fully vaccinated. In Tampa, it’s 1.6 million people.

“We have very different states, we have different regulations, we have different laws, different operations,” Dr. Teng said. “We have some places that, like New Hampshire has a huge number of people that have been vaccinated, and then we have places like Mississippi where it’s 30% or less.”

But even still, Florida only saw 1,976 new COVID cases in the last day, according to the health department, compared to 6,323 new cases on April 16, 2021.

He notes a recent CDC study shows vaccinated healthcare workers aren’t getting or spreading COVID much at all which may be the reason behind the new guidelines.

“The data for the vaccines working is really good and we’ve known this for a while, but it’s really good to see it in the real world,” he said. “I think the problem is you can’t just take those data and then set them into the public at large.”

That’s because healthcare workers have stricter safety protocols to prevent infection which he says doesn’t necessarily represent the general public. His advice — wear a mask if the business is requiring it, and wear a mask if your kid isn’t vaccinated.