The mask wars here in Kentucky have been fully joined, as Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear has issued an executive order this week for state employees to wear masks indoors, but several Republicans in statewide offices all say that they won't enforce the mandate at all.
Though Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear's administration is now requiring state government workers to wear a mask in state offices, several constitutional offices have chosen not to enforce the masking rules for their employees.
Whereas only unvaccinated state workers had been required to mask for the past several months, a memo from Personnel Cabinet Secretary Gerina Whethers on Thursday stated that all executive branch employees would be required to wear a face covering when around others in state offices or vehicles, regardless of their vaccination status.
The move followed a Tuesday advisory by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that all people should wear masks around others indoors in areas of "substantial and high transmission" of COVID-19 — which currently includes most counties in Kentucky and many other states — citing the rapid spread of the more-transmissible delta variant.
However, at least three of the five constitutional offices run by Republican elected officials won't enforce the mandate, including those of the state auditor, agriculture commissioner and state treasurer.
Sean Southard, the spokesman for Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, said the two-term officer "disagrees with the Governor’s mask mandate and as such, the Kentucky Department of Agriculture will not be enforcing it."
Quarles tweeted Thursday that with vaccines widely available, "it's time to end the mandates as the voluntary vaccines offer the best protection from COVID-19 and the Delta variant. It's an individual choice."
Quarles, State Auditor Mike Harmon, and State Treasurer Alison Ball all say they won't enforce the rule, and I would expect that will go double for Secretary of State Michael Adams and AG Daniel Cameron, who I expect will have a lawsuit on the KY Supreme Court's doorstep by Monday and a motion for an injunction to stop the mandate.
Gov. Beshear of course has been stripped of most of his power to institute a mask mandate for any non-state employee by the State legislature, requiring him to call an emergency session for a vote after 30 days for any emergency mandate of any kind. Right now that fight is on hold in Kentucky's Supreme Court, and Beshear is not considering a statewide mask mandate at all, although he is encouraging people to wear masks in offices and schools.
I would suspect though that the fight here in Kentucky is just beginning as delta makes the rounds. Me, I'm still masking up.
So should all of you, because the delta variant makes last year's outbreaks look like a picnic.
The delta variant of the coronavirus appears to cause more severe illness than earlier variants and spreads as easily as chickenpox, according to an internal federal health document that argues officials must “acknowledge the war has changed.”
The document is an internal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention slide presentation, shared within the CDC and obtained by The Washington Post. It captures the struggle of the nation’s top public health agency to persuade the public to embrace vaccination and prevention measures, including mask-wearing, as cases surge across the United States and new research suggests vaccinated people can spread the virus.
The document strikes an urgent note, revealing the agency knows it must revamp its public messaging to emphasize vaccination as the best defense against a variant so contagious that it acts almost like a different novel virus, leaping from target to target more swiftly than Ebola or the common cold.
It cites a combination of recently obtained, still-unpublished data from outbreak investigations and outside studies showing that vaccinated individuals infected with delta may be able to transmit the virus as easily as those who are unvaccinated. Vaccinated people infected with delta have measurable viral loads similar to those who are unvaccinated and infected with the variant.
“I finished reading it significantly more concerned than when I began,” Robert Wachter, chairman of the Department of Medicine at the University of California at San Francisco, wrote in an email.
CDC scientists were so alarmed by the new research that the agency earlier this week significantly changed guidance for vaccinated people even before making new data public.
The data and studies cited in the document played a key role in revamped recommendations that call for everyone — vaccinated or not — to wear masks indoors in public settings in certain circumstances, a federal health official said. That official told The Post that the data will be published in full on Friday. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky privately briefed members of Congress on Thursday, drawing on much of the material in the document.
One of the slides states that there is a higher risk among older age groups for hospitalization and death relative to younger people, regardless of vaccination status. Another estimates that there are 35,000 symptomatic infections per week among 162 million vaccinated Americans.
The document outlines “communication challenges” fueled by cases in vaccinated people, including concerns from local health departments about whether coronavirus vaccines remain effective and a “public convinced vaccines no longer work/booster doses needed.”
The presentation highlights the daunting task the CDC faces. It must continue to emphasize the proven efficacy of the vaccines at preventing severe illness and death while acknowledging milder breakthrough infections may not be so rare after all, and that vaccinated individuals are transmitting the virus. The agency must move the goal posts of success in full public view.
With more and more Americans living in states now that actively deny any emergency measures, mask mandates, or public health measures indoors, the odds of millions of Americans contracting the delta variant are far worse than even the horrible winter we had.
This is the near worst-case scenario, folks. Mask up, get vaccinated, and be careful.
It only gets exponential from here.