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Towns requiring masks at offices

As the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 each day in Essex and Franklin counties continues to rise, some local governments are adjusting their policies on mask-wearing to adhere to guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC issued new guidance last month asking even those who are vaccinated to wear masks indoors in areas where there is a “substantial” or “high” level of community spread, meaning a high number of cases where the source of a person’s infection is unknown. Last month, Essex County had only “moderate” spread and Franklin County had “low” spread, based on the CDC’s metrics. However, within the last week, both counties have moved into the “high” spread category.

In Lake Placid, the North Elba Town Council adopted a new policy requiring all town employees — and all visitors to the North Elba Town Hall — to wear masks, regardless of their vaccination status. The town is also recommending everyone follow other recommendations from the CDC to curb the spread of the coronavirus, such as social distancing and frequent hand-washing. That policy, which also applies to the Lake Placid village offices in the town hall, took effect Wednesday, Aug. 18

The towns of Keene and Jay also have a similar policy in place for town-owned facilities, according to their Facebook pages. In Wilmington, the town is not yet requiring vaccinated people to wear masks in its facilities — most people visiting the town offices have been wearing masks anyway, according to town Supervisor Roy Holzer. Unvaccinated people are still required to wear masks.

“We are upping our efforts and giving out hand sanitizer and free disposable face masks,” Holzer said.

The Essex County Health Department, county Manager Dan Palmer and the county Board of Supervisors have recommended all county employees and visitors to the county complex in Elizabethtown wear masks, regardless of vaccination status.

“Essex County is now experiencing moderate transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19 after a reprieve in the spring and early summer,” county Public Health Director Linda Beers said in a statement last week, before the county’s transmission level shifted.

“The Delta variant is more infectious and transmissible, we are seeing an increase in cases, and occasionally breakthrough cases in vaccinated individuals,” Beers said.

Recent research has shown that those who are vaccinated and subsequently infected with the Delta variant may be just as contagious as unvaccinated people, even if they don’t experience symptoms. It’s rare for vaccinated people to get “breakthrough” infections, but when it happens, the vaccines largely prevent serious illness, according to the Associated Press.

The Essex County Health Department has reported at least 17 “breakthrough” infections between Jan. 17 and July 30, the last time this total was released. That’s less than 0.1% of the 21,799 people who were fully vaccinated in this county as of July 30, or 2.4% of the total positives found in that timeframe.

In the past two weeks — between Aug. 2 and Monday — 76 people in Essex County tested positive for COVID-19. In the first two weeks of August last year — before any vaccines were authorized for use in the U.S., while mask requirements and social distancing were still in place, and while the CDC still advised against travel — just 8 people tested positive for COVID-19 in Essex County. In the past two weeks in Franklin County — between Aug. 4 and Wednesday — 83 people tested positive; around the same time last year, two people tested positive.

“Delta has required yet another change to the COVID playbook,” Beers said last week. “We know that a layered approach — one that incorporates vaccinations, masking, handwashing and disinfection, social distancing, testing, and contact tracing — helps to keep COVID from surging in our communities. It appears that all of these strategies will be necessary to stop Delta or other similarly infectious variants and we have to protect those who are most vulnerable and anyone unable to be vaccinated yet.”

As of Monday, there were 44 active cases of COVID-19 in Essex County; as of Wednesday, there were 67 active cases in Franklin County.

The symptoms of the Delta variant are the same as other strains: fever, dry cough, difficulty breathing, muscle aches, fatigue, temporary loss of taste or smell. Visit coronavirus.health.ny.gov/find-test-site-near-you to find more information about local testing sites.

Essex County residents interested in getting vaccinated against COVID-19 can visit online at www.co.essex.ny.us/health/make-an-appointment to find dates and times for vaccine clinics run by the county Health Department. Franklin County residents can call 518-481-1710 for more information about where to get vaccinated. Vaccine appointments can also be made at many local pharmacies.