Chicago's top doctor said Thursday that residents must continue to wear a mask, even if fully vaccinated against COVID-19, but that the mandate could be lifted within months.
Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said in a Facebook Live event that the city could have a discussion over mask requirements in "a number of months" if vaccination rates continue to increase.
"This is where we start to get into these herd immunity questions and we can talk some more about that in a sort of a future discussion because that's a big conversation," Arwady said. "But right now, while the vaccine coverage rates are still pretty low right -- we're making amazing progress -- but not a lot of us anywhere in the country, to be clear, are at a point yet where we're anywhere near this quote 'herd immunity.'"
In Indiana, mask-wearing was no longer required beginning Tuesday, when a host of other changes are also set to go into effect. Masks continue to be required in state buildings and COVID vaccination facilities, as well as K-12 schools and COVID testing sites.
“I will continue to appropriately wear a mask. It’s the right thing to do,” Holcomb said last month. “Hoosiers who take these recommended precautions will help us get to what I hope is the tail end of this pandemic.”
Holcomb cited improvements in coronavirus diagnoses and hospitalizations in rolling back various mitigation strategies, saying that nearly one million state residents have now been vaccinated against the virus.
Even with increasing vaccinations, Arwady explained COVID will not likely be eliminated, unless there is a breakthrough treatment or another entirely different tactic. Chicago could, however, view the virus similar to the flu season with people wearing face coverings solely based on symptoms.
According to Arwady, the influenza virus typically mutates more rapidly than COVID, which she said is a good thing in terms of protecting against the virus.
“It mutates much less quickly than the flu which is really good news,” Arwady said. “It's part of why in the real world protection has continued to be quite good.”
However, she said she’s unsure whether or not a booster will be needed in the future. As of currently, Arwady said there is no plan for a booster shot amid emerging variants of the virus.
“You could need a booster because it does mutate, but at this point, it's not mutating anywhere near as quickly as flu, even though it's had so much opportunity to do so because it's spread across the whole world,” she said.
If a booster is needed, officials said it would likely only be because the protections the COVID vaccine offers are fading against the different or new variants of the virus.
Arwady added that those who have been fully vaccinated from the coronavirus, meaning they have waited at least two weeks after the second dose, do not need to quarantine if exposed to COVID.
"The CDC recommends that you do not if you are fully vaccinated," Arwady said. "You are considered protected against COVID and you would not need to quarantine after an exposure."
She reminded that although the vaccine are "very protective," they do not entirely prevent the spread of COVID-19, as the city has seen some cases in people fully vaccinated.
"Not a lot, it's unusual, but it happens," Arwady said. "And so we do ask people after an exposure certainly to be extra careful with monitoring their symptoms, extra careful with wearing your mask."