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El Paso now at ‘substantial’ risk of community COVID spread, CDC says; indoor masks recommended

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El Paso County now has a “substantial” risk of community spread of COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports, meaning people are advised to wear masks in indoor settings, even if they are fully vaccinated.

Gov. Greg Abbott has issued executive orders that bar local communities from mandating masks as a way of minimizing spread of COVID-19. Businesses and other establishments can enact their own mask mandates for employees and customers.

CDC last week issued revised guidance on mask wearing by people who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Previously, the health agency said fully vaccinated people didn’t need to wear masks, although indoor mask wearing was recommended for people not fully vaccinated. But as the highly infectious delta variant emerged as the primary strain of COVID-19 in the country, CDC changed the recommendation to encourage masks in counties with substantial or high rates of community spread of the coronavirus.

El Paso had been in the moderate risk category until Friday, meaning the county wasn’t at the community spread level where masks were recommended in indoor settings for people who had been vaccinated.

The change from “moderate” to “substantial” risk comes as most El Paso County public school students head back to class for the 2021-22 school year. The CDC has recommended that everyone in schools wear masks, but Abbott has barred such mandates in Texas schools.

Fort Bliss, which is not subject to Abbott’s orders, reinstated its indoor mask mandate in all post facilities on Friday, after CDC changed El Paso’s risk status.

El Paso reported 565 new confirmed COVID-19 cases last week, a 68% increase over the prior week and the highest number of new cases in three months.

Health officials continue to recommend vaccines as the best way to prevent COVID-19 infection or to minimize effects of the disease. About 480,000 El Pasoans have been fully vaccinated against COVID 19; only 756, or 0.16%, have tested positive for the virus after vaccination. Only 10 of the more than 1,000 COVID-19 deaths reported in El Paso County this year have been among the fully vaccinated.

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