In a White House briefing on Feb. 16, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Rochelle Walensky indicated that the CDC will soon alter its guidance on mask-wearing to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
“We are assessing the most important factors based on where we are in the pandemic, and we’ll soon put guidance in place that is relevant and encourages prevention measures when they are most needed to protect public health and our hospitals,” Walensky said. “We want to give people a break from things like mask-wearing, when these metrics are better, and then have the ability to reach for them again should things worsen.”
Drake provost and epidemiologist Sue Mattison said that Drake was going to predict that it would lift its mask mandate sometime in March, and then Walensky indicated that the CDC will soon change its guidance. Drake said in its most recent COVID-19 update that CDC recommendations have played a significant role in guiding Drake COVID-19 policies and it will “respond accordingly” when the CDC releases updated mask guidance.
“There are other factors, and it’s really important that we look at what’s happening around here,” Mattison said. “And I’m guessing the CDC will recommend that that’s how you approach it, to look at what’s happening in your area.”
Mattison said that she thinks COVID-19 cases have peaked on campus. On Jan. 28, Drake reported that 42 students had confirmed cases of COVID-19, the highest number so far this year. Since then, cases have declined, and the University reported that 13 students had confirmed cases on Friday.
COVID cases “continue to decline substantially,” according to a Feb. 16 situation report for COVID-19 for central Iowa posted by the Polk County Health Department. However, the COVID-19 transmission level for the county is still ranked “high” by the CDC, like most of Iowa and the United States. The situation report said that 150 new infections were occurring each day in Polk County.
Along with the state of COVID-19 near Drake, Mattison said that an outside report from the company Epistemix also helps inform Drake’s mask policy. The report predicted that COVID-19 cases would peak at 28 cases on Feb. 6 if 70 percent of students were vaccinated. On Feb. 4, Drake’s student vaccination rate was 72 percent, which it still is as of Feb. 18.
The report also includes a broader range of possible case numbers, and on Feb. 6 the high was 48 cases while the low was 19 cases. The report predicts that cases will decline throughout the spring semester.
“So, we will start to see a decline in [cases],” Mattison said. “That also makes sense with the weather, as the weather starts to get better and more people are doing more things outside rather than inside.”
This article has been updated to include Provost Mattison’s words about how Drake was “going to try to make a call for when we could lift masks, to predict sometime in March” and to reflect that the Epistemix report takes the mask mandate policy into account when making its prediction.