Nashville health officials have no plans to institute a new mask mandate after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed guidelines Tuesday, advising vaccinated individuals to wear masks indoors in areas where the coronavirus is surging.
Infection rates in Tennessee have soared in recent weeks, with a significant presence of the Delta variant in the state. The Department of Health reported 2,155 new cases on Monday. The seven-day average of new cases in Tennessee has increased by more than 500% since July 1, to a rate not seen since April.
“There are no plans to reinstate a citywide mask mandate in Nashville,” Metro Public Health Department spokesperson Brian Todd told Main Street Nashville.
“We encourage everyone to evaluate these guidelines and consider wearing a mask in indoor settings, particularly among individuals who are not vaccinated and those who are immune compromised,” he added.
The Metro coronavirus task force is reviewing the updated CDC guidance, according to Andrea Fanta, a spokesperson for Mayor John Cooper.
“Meanwhile, we hope residents will not lose sight of the solution for ending this pandemic: getting vaccinated,” Fanta said.
MPHD continues to offer free COVID-19 vaccinations at the drive-thru vaccine clinic on Murfreesboro Road and at pop-up clinics across the county. Vaccines are available to anyone 12 or older.
The CDC’s new guidance
On Tuesday, the CDC released new guidance recommending that vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals wear masks indoors in areas where COVID-19 transmission rates are high.
The new guidance is a reversal for the CDC, which has advised for months that a vaccine provides sufficient protection against COVID-19. As recently as Thursday, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said there was no need for the agency to change its guidance on masking.
New guidance was released during a briefing Tuesday.
“In rare occasions some vaccinated people infected with the Delta variant after vaccination may be contagious and spread the virus to others,” Walensky said. “This new science is worrisome and unfortunately warrants an update to our recommendations. ... This is not a decision that we or CDC has made lightly.”
Recommendations are based on new information about the ability for vaccinated people to carry and transmit the Delta variant of the virus. Last week, Tennessee Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey said an estimated 80% of cases in the state are the Delta variant.
Local mask authority will not be reinstated
Last year, by executive order, Gov. Bill Lee gave county mayors authority to institute mask requirements at the local level, and many did. As COVID-19 vaccination rates climbed and transmission rates fell this spring, Lee ended county governments’ authority to issue mask requirements in public areas. At the time, only a handful of counties had requirements in place.
Lee is not considering reinstating that local authority to mandate masks, spokesperson Casey Black confirmed.
“COVID-19 vaccines are the most effective way to manage risk against COVID-19, including the Delta variant, and we encourage Tennesseans to prioritize vaccination,” Black said. “Mask-wearing will remain a personal choice for individuals as they evaluate their own unique circumstances, such as being high-risk or immunocompromised.”
Tennessee Department of Health spokesperson Sarah Tanksley echoed the governor’s office’s statement, stressing that masks will remain a personal decision.