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CDC leader explains new masking guidelines at Massey’s Facts & Faith Fridays

Jun 03, 2021

CDC Leader Christa Marie Singleton Christa-Marie Singleton, M.D., M.P.H., senior medical advisor in the CDC Office of the Associate Director for Policy and Strategy.

One day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued new COVID-19 masking guidelines, Virginia faith leaders gathered virtually as part of VCU Massey Cancer Center’s weekly webinar, Facts and Faith Fridays, to learn how the change will affect their communities and congregations.

On May 14, 2021, Facts and Faith hosted Christa-Marie Singleton, M.D., M.P.H., senior medical advisor in the CDC Office of the Associate Director for Policy and Strategy. VCU Massey Cancer Center director Robert Winn, M.D., and finance lawyer and Massey Advisory Board member Rudene Mercer Haynes led the discussion. Speaking virtually to nearly 100 participants, Singleton explained why the CDC eased its mask requirements.

On May 13, 2021, the CDC announced fully-vaccinated people can “resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing” in most indoor and outdoor settings. “At the CDC, we pride ourselves in our science,” Singleton said. “We started looking at what was happening in real world settings. Everyone who’s getting these vaccines, not only are they not getting sick but they’re also not transmitting the virus. We recognized that maybe these masks could go away.”

On May 14, 2021, the same day that Singleton appeared on Facts and Faith, the CDC released findings of its largest-to-date COVID-19 vaccine effectiveness study in health care professionals (HCPs). Tapping into a network of 33 sites across 25 states, the CDC found HCPs who received one dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines reduced their risk of contracting symptomatic infections by 82%; Workers who received both doses had a protection of 94% one week after the second shot.

During the Zoom meeting, Singleton answered questions from faith leaders who wanted to know how public establishments, such as churches or restaurants, should go about safeguarding their patrons, acknowledging that asking for proof of vaccination status might result in lost business or alienated congregants.

The big thing right now is encouraging people to get vaccinated,” Singleton said. “And if you happen to be in an area that still has a lot of cases, such as Michigan and Kentucky, you may say, ‘That’s great, but we’re going to hold on to our mask requirements for now and have a vaccine event on our church property.’”

Singleton shared that currently more than half of Virginians have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and cases are dropping. She also busted a few common myths about COVID-19 vaccination and reinforced the evidence that vaccines are safe and effective in people as young as 12 years old.

The CDC’s relaxed guidelines prompted Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam to lift the commonwealth’s masking mandate for anyone who is fully-vaccinated. As of May 15, 2021, fully-vaccinated individuals do not have to wear masks in indoor or outdoor settings, except in health care and correctional facilities, on public transit, in homeless shelters and in schools. Businesses have the authority to impose their own mask-wearing requirements for employees and customers and may ask for proof of vaccination for maskless entry, though the commonwealth does not foresee imposing a universal vaccine passport.

“Some places are saying they would prefer to have people who come to their offices or places of worship to wear a mask” Singleton reported to the Facts and Faith group. “If someone still wants to wear their mask, if they don’t feel comfortable, then I would say encourage them to still wear their mask. Have a spirit of openness and giving so that if someone still wants to wear their mask, you’re cool with that.”

Facts and Faith Fridays began in March 2020 after Mercer Haynes, a partner with the Hunton Andrews Kurth law firm, connected the Rev. F. Todd Gray of Fifth Street Baptist Church with Winn of VCU Massey Cancer Center. The weekly conference calls were formed to address the disproportionate impact the novel coronavirus pandemic has had on the Black community and have evolved to address a range of health topics, including cancer. Through guest speakers and Winn’s own assessment of the latest data, the organizers provide dozens of faith leaders from across the commonwealth and beyond with information to educate congregants about the pandemic, and the zoom meetings have initiated vaccination clinics on church grounds across Virginia.

As of April 9, 2021, Facts and Faith Fridays had helped to get more than 7,000 people vaccinated, according to Amy Popovich, RN, M.S.N., nurse manager for the Virginia Department of Health, Richmond City District, who frequently joins the webinar to field questions and provide updates.

“If you are vaccinated, you are less likely to spread the virus, and the more [people] we can get vaccinated protects ourselves and the people around us,” Singleton said. “We as a faith community and just the human community are about supporting each other. And so getting vaccinated is the safest way to protect our community.”

Written by: Amy Lacey and Erin Hare

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