‘Frustrating and concerning’: Montco urges masks, vaccinations as delta variant spreads

A person holds up a sign that says,

Students and parents gather outside the Governor's Mansion to urge Gov. Greg Abbott to drop his opposition to public school mask mandates, Monday, Aug. 16, 2021, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

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Montgomery County is requiring masking in government buildings, and recommending them everywhere else, as the delta variant continues to spread and push up new cases of coronavirus.

As of Monday, 79 county residents were hospitalized with COVID-19, up from single-digit hospitalizations in late June.

“I know that this is frustrating and concerning to many, many people,” said county commission chair Dr. Val Arkoosh. The spread, while growing, remains less serious than previous waves. During peaks in May and December 2020, hundreds of people were hospitalized in Montgomery County on a given day.

The majority of people getting sick from COVID-19 now are unvaccinated, but everyone must take steps to slow the spread of the delta variant, said Arkoosh. That means wearing masks again.

Vaccination helps keep people from getting sick, but the delta variant still spreads more easily between people than earlier variants of the virus, she explained. A person infected with an earlier variant of the virus infected two-to-three other people on average. With the delta variant, that number typically jumps to five-to-eight, and vaccinated people may be able to spread the virus without showing any symptoms themselves.

“Because this delta variant is different, we need to change what we’re doing to stop its spread,” said Arkoosh.

Seventy-seven percent of Montgomery County residents have had at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine.

All but six Pennsylvania counties are considered to have “high” or “substantial” transmission, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Philadelphia and Montgomery County rank as “high.” The Pennsylvania Department of Health’s COVID Early Warning Monitoring System Dashboard shows Montgomery County has had substantial transmission for more than two weeks.

County officials stopped short of mandating mask-wearing in public or in schools, but recommend universal masking in all public indoor spaces.

The suburban Philadelphia county is also once again stepping up its public health messaging in light of higher transmission. COVID-19 briefings will resume three times a week, every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and officials will begin tracking coronavirus statistics by school district.

With booster shots now recommended for immunocompromised individuals, county vaccination sites are establishing a protocol for administering them and will begin doing so soon, said officials.

With more businesses requiring proof of vaccination to enter, Montgomery County’s Public Health centers are able to replace cards that are lost to anyone who received a vaccination in Pennsylvania.

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