Gov. Wolf’s administration, in coordination with the Pennsylvania Department of Health, announced recently that all COVID-19 mitigation orders — except masking — will be lifted on Monday, May 31. The mask mandate will continue until 70% of the commonwealth population is fully vaccinated.
“We anticipated that both the commonwealth and federal government would incrementally begin to return us to ‘normal life’ and alter the mitigation efforts that were designed to keep us safe and prevent severe infections,” said Dr. Donald M. Yealy, chief medical officer of UPMC.
While this is positive news, it’s important to remember that changes to public health guidance and state protocols are broad. Each person should continue to take the safety measures necessary to protect themselves and their communities.
“The virus doesn’t pay attention to public health guidance or mandates. COVID-19 takes every opportunity it can to spread,” explained Dr. Graham Snyder, UPMC’s medical director of infection prevention and hospital epidemiology. “We’ll now rely more heavily on the public to assess their own personal risk levels to guide their actions.”
Even as mitigation efforts are relaxed, COVID-19 continues to be a threat for individuals vulnerable to the disease.
“If you’re vulnerable, or someone healthy with vulnerable loved ones, your decision on whether to continue to mask will impact the risk of the activities you partake in,” said Snyder.
He notes that vulnerable people will need to be more careful with the risks they are taking. Some details to consider include:
• How many people will be around you?
• Are you vaccinated? Are those around you vaccinated?
• How close are you to others? Should you maintain a distance?
• What kind of activity are you doing?
• Are you masked? Are others around you masked?
• Are you outdoors or indoors with poor air circulation?
“If you’re doing an activity indoors or in a crowd outdoors, it’s a good idea to keep your mask on. If you’re vulnerable or older or have any fears, wearing a well-fitted mask properly can reduce those concerns and risks,” said Yealy. “Also, be careful about your distance from others and be aware of whom you’re around. And of course, don’t go out if you’re sick.”
About 50% of Pennsylvania residents have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. This means that many more need to be vaccinated before the state will lift its mask mandate. There is still widespread hesitancy among Pennsylvanians—and others across the country—about getting the vaccine.
“Many young people think if they get the infection it won’t matter, but that’s a poor gamble to take. There’s also a lot of misinformation on safety and side effects. These vaccines are very safe and heavily studied. Talk to someone who knows – your physician or an informed professional. Don’t just read online stories,” said Yealy.
“We have to maximize the amount of immunity we have in the community,” said Snyder. “If we get a lot of people in our communities vaccinated, we can control the transmission rates of the virus.”
To learn more about the recent changes in state mitigation efforts, visit the Pennsylvania Department of Health. To schedule a COVID-19 vaccine through UPMC, visit Vaccine.UPMC.com, or visit www.UPMC.com/coronavirus/covid-vaccine/faq for answers to COVID-19 vaccine questions.