Published on July 21, 2021

blue medical masks on orange background

When can I stop wearing "the mask"?

It’s the question everyone is asking, but the answer isn’t completely black and white. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated that vaccinated Americans no longer need to wear masks while indoors. However, at Johnston Health and at other hospitals and medical centers across the country, we’re required to keep our masks on. It seems counterintuitive -- the hospital is where we go to get care for COVID-19, so why aren’t we safe enough to take off our face coverings?

The answer revolves around risk. Despite the availability of vaccines and the fact that more than half of our hospital staff have been fully vaccinated, the vaccination rate is much lower for the county.

At Johnston Health, patients are seen in the emergency department before the diagnosis of COVID is made and, occasionally, patients are admitted before their COVID test is complete. In addition, COVID patients often need advanced respiratory care and radiographic studies, so they may receive care outside of the safety of their negative pressure room. These factors increase the risk of COVID transmission within the hospital, necessitating the use of masks to keep our employees safe.

Masks have been an integral part of controlling the spread of COVID within the hospital for the past 15 months. As a result of masks and distancing, we’ve had few cases of hospital-acquired COVID infection. But there is more to be done. Getting vaccinated is, without a doubt, the best step we can take in the effort to return to normalcy and to keep our health care heroes safe. Hesitancy toward the COVID vaccine is natural, but we must rely on the facts: these vaccines work.

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were tested on more than 40,000 patients before being offered to the public. Both have proven quite safe, with only a four-in-a-million risk of serious allergic reactions. They have proven so safe, in fact, that they’ve even been approved for children and, to date, more than 600,000 U.S. children have been at least partially vaccinated. In addition to safety, the vaccines are effective (boasting a 85 to 95 percent effectiveness rate). In recent interviews, Dr. Anthony Fauci is reporting that 99.5 percent of all deaths to COVID-19 are of unvaccinated people. These statistics confirm that the vaccines are doing their jobs. Also, they don’t “mutate” DNA, contain microchips, or make you more likely to get sick.

So, to get back to the question at hand: when can we stop wearing masks at Johnston Health and in other doctor’s offices? The answer is difficult. Here and across UNC Health, our leadership is asking the same question. At this point, we can’t say for sure when we’ll be “mask-free” in the hospital. However, what we can say for sure is that we won’t get to that point without an increased rate of vaccinations. These vaccines are safe, effective and most important, life-saving. We must all do our part and if we work together, a mask-free future is closer than you may think.

Want to know more? Visit our COVID-19 Resource page to read more on what patients need to know about the coronavirus, ways to help, and updated visitor restrictions.