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Do I still need a mask? Breaking down the Delta variant and new masking guidelines

By Dr. Von Nguyen | August 10, 2021 | Community Health, Public Health Challenges

Young woman wears face mask while shopping for groceries

With the state slowly reopening, it can be difficult to know where and when to wear a mask. Does it matter if you’re vaccinated? What if you have kids who aren’t? How do the new COVID variants play in?

These are common questions. We’re here to help you make sense of the latest guidelines so you can keep yourself, your family, and your community safe.

The Delta variant is more contagious than previous strains of covid-19.

As of late July, there had been 9,053 covid cases reported in North Carolina over a seven-day period. Compared to 5,441 cases in the preceding seven days, that’s a 66% increase. Within three weeks, hospitalizations doubled.

If you’re vaccinated

As of June, North Carolina lifted many restrictions for vaccinated people. But recently we’ve seen an increase in COVID cases nationwide, largely due to the more contagious Delta variant. That means it’s still too early to let our guard down.

Recently the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommended vaccinated people wear a mask in public indoor settings in areas of substantial or high transmission. I, however, am willing to go one step further and recommend that we wear masks in all public indoor settings to protect ourselves and our neighbors.

Early research shows that the vaccines offer protection against severe illness from the Delta variant. The vast majority of COVID cases in recent weeks are among unvaccinated individuals. But breakthrough infections among the vaccinated can happen. And a vaccinated person who gets the Delta variant can spread it to their neighbors and loved ones.

Even if you have been vaccinated, wearing a mask when in public places is a good idea. In some parts of the state, mask wearing is required due to State of Emergency orders.

While most adults in North Carolina have received at least one dose of the vaccine, many people—including children under 12—aren’t vaccinated. Wearing a mask in public can help protect children, immunocompromised people, and others who have not been vaccinated.

Everyone—vaccinated or not—must wear a face covering in certain high-risk settings. These include:

  • Public transportation
  • Doctor’s offices and other health care settings
  • Childcare settings, including schools and camps
  • Nursing homes
  • Homeless shelters
  • Correctional facilities

The state also strongly recommends wearing masks at large indoor gatherings like concerts and sporting events.

Continue to be mindful of others, and follow the guidance of your workplace and local businesses.

If you’re unvaccinated:

If you are not vaccinated against COVID-19, you are at greater risk of catching and spreading the virus. Almost all new COVID cases in North Carolina—94%—are in unvaccinated people.

People who are not vaccinated should continue to exercise personal responsibility to protect themselves and their neighbors. The CDC asks unvaccinated individuals to continue to take precautions at all indoor settings and outdoors where social distancing is not possible.

To help curb the pandemic, consider getting vaccinated if you can. I understand this is a highly personal choice. If you are on the fence, I encourage you to read how this pandemic is quickly becoming a serious threat to unvaccinated populations.

Continue to practice the three Ws: Wear a mask, wash your hands, and wait six feet apart. This will help keep you safe in addition to children, people going through chemotherapy, and others who can’t be vaccinated or have compromised immune systems.

High-risk settings continue to require face coverings. This includes places like airports, clinics, and schools. Businesses and workplaces may also decide to require masks inside.

Up-to-date information and resources for our members can be found at If you live outside of North Carolina, please follow your local and state guidelines.