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‘We have to take COVID-19 very seriously’: It is necessary to stay safe from the delta variant, Dr. Francisco Velazquez says

Aug. 26, 2021 Updated Fri., Aug. 27, 2021 at 7 a.m.

It’s deja vu all over again is what baseball icon and wordsmith Yogi Berra would have probably said about the return of the mask mandate if the New York Yankees catcher were still alive.

Gov. Jay Inslee announced last week an expansion of Washington’s state mask mandate to include vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals in indoor settings, which commenced Monday. Masks are also strongly recommended in crowded outdoor settings. The announcement follows a surge in COVID-19 cases and a record number of hospitalizations in Washington.

It’s not just a state or local issue. Nationally, coronavirus case numbers are the highest they’ve been since the start of 2021. Hospitalization rates are rising in almost every state. Children, many ineligible for immunization, have embarked on yet another pandemic school year. The delta variant is wreaking havoc.

Will masks help battle the SARS-CoV-2, which continues to morph?

“We understand that people are feeling pandemic fatigue, and this might feel like a step back,” said Dr. Francisco Velazquez, interim health officer for the Spokane Regional Health District. “But with this new variant and our current vaccination rates, masking is a simple and effective tool that adds another layer of protection for our community.”

Providence Medical Group concurs with Velazquez via a statement. “Masks are a crucial part of protecting both ourselves and others from COVID-19 infection, including illness caused by the delta variant. With this deadly virus once again overwhelming the Inland Northwest, it is imperative that most people utilize all layers of protection, including masking, social distancing and, most importantly, vaccination.”

Since masking is back, Dr. Velazquez has some advice. “We have to take COVID-19 very seriously,” Dr. Velazquez said from his Spokane office. “It is necessary to stay safe from the delta variant. One of the mistakes people make is having an improperly fitting mask.

“Make sure the mask fits. If it doesn’t fit, you are at risk. The mask should cover your nose and mouth. If there are gaps on the side, it will not be effective, and we need as much protection from the delta variant as possible.”

A cloth mask with two or three layers should provide enough protection, according to Velazquez. “That’s what I wear in the supermarket. You don’t need the N95 surgical masks unless you’re in a place like a hospital. I wear my N95 when I’m in that environment.”

Velazquez implores those in the Inland Northwest to mask up and vaccinate since the delta variant has a high transmission rate. “It’s easy to get infected by the delta variant,” Velazquez said. “That’s why there should be no question that we wear masks whether we’re vaccinated or not.

“The respiratory droplets, which are out there, have a higher concentration of the virus. We are vulnerable even if we are vaccinated. A layer or two of protection helps. Masks are part of the equation, but let’s not forget about the vaccine. Everyone should be vaccinated since you will not become as ill if you do get the delta variant.”

More than 250,000 individuals have initiated vaccination in Spokane County. However, many people remain unvaccinated. Vaccination is the best protection from COVID-19 and greatly decreases the likelihood of severe illness, hospitalization and death, health officials say. After vaccinating, masking limits the virus’s access to human airways. Masks enable vaccinated immune systems to be set for success.

“There’s no doubt about that,” Velazquez said. “We need to play it as safe as possible. So minimize your risk by wearing a mask in indoor spaces with people you don’t know. Keep distance between yourself and strangers.

“I also recommend people wear a mask outdoors, particularly in a crowded event, like a concert, regardless of their vaccination status. We need to have a multilayered approach. We have to take the delta variant very seriously. Vaccinate, wear a mask and be socially distant.”

For more information about COVID-19 vaccinations and where to find a vaccine provider, go to covid.srhd.org and vaccinelocator.doh.wa.gov.

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