When Delaware lifts its mask mandate this Friday for fully vaccinated persons in conjunction with Centers for Disease Control guidance, the state won't be asking who's vaccinated and who's not.
At his weekly coronavirus news conference, Governor John Carney called enforcement "challenging" and something governors in all states are struggling with as the pandemic eases.
"You don't know who's vaccinated and who's not, and we're not going to be in the business of asking people or for the so-called vaccine passports so you know who's vaccinated. We know that around 50% of our people are vaccinated, we just don't know which 50% so it becomes a little unenforceable," he said. "People need to understand this...there can be an outbreak among the 50% that's not vaccinated, and maybe, not wearing masks. That's just the simple reality."
A person is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving their second dose of COVID-19 vaccine or two weeks after receiving the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
While many states are also lifting mask mandates, New Jersey has not backed down and will keep its indoor mask mandate in effect until further notice. Pennsylvania plans to lift its mask mandate once 70% of its 18+ population is fully vaccinated.
"People heard what the CDC and said, and they figured it's over. Number one, it's not over. Number two, it just became difficult, from our perspective, to be able to enforce it, and so we're trying to keep the messaging clear that people aren't vaccinated need to get vaccinated and use this as motivation to really lean into our efforts to get folks vaccinated," said Delaware's governor.
"You won't be able to tell by looking at the person next to you if they've been vaccinated or not. So even though others may not be wearing a mask, there's no guarantee that they've been vaccinated and that you are safe if you're unvaccinated," said Dr. Karyl Rattay, director of the Division of Public Health.
Throughout the pandemic, the state has relied on voluntary compliance with its COVID-19-related restrictions.
"I'm confident that most people will do what's recommended. We know we rely pretty heavily on voluntary compliance anyway, it just has made it a little bit confusing," said the governor.
However, masks will continue to be required in state government buildings and facilities, schools, health care settings, on public transportation, and in prisons and other congregate settings. State employees will also be required to wear a mask unless they're at their desk and safely socially distanced from colleagues.
Private employers can continue to require masks in the workplace as well.
"I know we'll be working with a lot of employers trying to figure that out for their individual establishments, particularly retail establishments," he said.
Dr. Rattay applauded businesses that have kept a mask mandate in effect.
"Depending on the setting, it may very likely make their customers feel safer," she said.
Even as a fully vaccinated person, Carney said he'll continue to wear his mask in Wawa.
"Just so it's clear that that's a place that's safe, and frankly, not to stigmatize those folks who aren't vaccinated," he said. "I am fully vaccinated and wearing masks. So it's going to be a challenging time. It's good news though, and the bottom line is we really have to lean in to get everybody vaccinated. If we get everybody vaccinated, it's not a problem."
"Some people don't really trust that others around may be vaccinated or they just want to set a good example for their children who are unable to be vaccinated," said Dr. Rattay. "So I want to encourage people who choose not to wear a mask to not assume that those who do wear a mask are either against the vaccination or are unvaccinated, and just respect individuals who continue to choose to mask up."
Who's getting vaccinated
While a recent poll by The Economist/You Gov found a correlation between those who aren't interested in getting the COVID-19 vaccine and those who feel its safe to socialize without masks, Governor Carney is hoping that by lifting the state's mask mandate for fully vaccinated people, it increases the incentive for others to get inoculated. You can click here to find where you can get vaccinated.
"The question remains what happens if things, if the rollercoaster goes up the incline again, and we start peaking and having an outbreak? The most effective way of preventing that is to mask up for those who aren't vaccinated. What the CDC will say is that's not a risk for the vaccinated population. It should be a tremendous incentive for those who are not vaccinated to take that step, easy to do now, you can do a walk-up at your local fire hall and other places."
According to the state's vaccine tracker, as of Tuesday, May more than 183,000 Delawareans are fully vaccinated while 89,911 have received one dose of a two-dose vaccine regiment.
The state's vaccination rate among seniors 65-plus stands at 79%, the vaccine tracker shows.
"So they're protected from serious disease, from hospitalization, and from death, although there are some break-through cases for sure, and that's a reason to frankly be cautious and wear a mask, maybe, voluntarily. But we also know that the young adult population that has been kind of the source of some of the spread over the last several months is only vaccinated at about 25%. So 75% of that population is still unprotected with these very important and effective vaccines," he said.
Sixty-three percent of adult Delawareans 18+ have received at least one dose of vaccine.
"The age cohort where we've seen a lot of spread 18 to 34 or 35 year olds, the vaccination rate is only about 25 or 26% so you've got a significant percentage of that population unvaccinated," he cautioned.
"We want to get up to 70%, and we want to include in that denominator, the younger teenagers and children that are now eligible to be vaccinated," said the governor.
Last week, Delaware began vaccinating youth between the ages of 12 and 15 with the two-dose Pfizer vaccine, which recently saw its emergency use authorization expanded to the younger age group.
The governor first announced on May 14, that the state's mask mandate would lift one week later on May 21. Tuesday, he signed the 29th modification to his State of Emergency, adding in that the mask mandate will lift along with social distancing requirements in most circumstances. One notable exception to social distancing restrictions being lifted, in CDC guidance, includes school where students must remain 3 ft. apart.
WDEL asked the governor when he might consider ending the COVID-19 State of Emergency entirely.
"There are certain things that require emergency order. We have stripped out a lot of those provisions in the most recent update....there are issues around eviction and all kinds of things that effect local governments and their abilities to do business. They've adapted to that, and we have changed those restrictions throughout the year-plus, and nobody will be happier to strip off all those emergency orders than I will," he said.
Read the full 29th Modification to the State of Emergency: