It’s been more than a week since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new recommendations that everyone, even people who are fully vaccinated, start wearing masks indoors again and in places with high COVID-19 transmission rates, which includes Rhode Island. Amid rising anxiety among public health experts nationwide about the fast-spreading Delta variant, Rhode Island has announced only one new recommendation, and that’s for masking in schools. Here’s some of what Rhode Islanders need to know:

How are other states responding to the new CDC recommendations?

Nine states including two in the northeast -- Connecticut and New York -- have indoor mask mandates, as well as the District of Columbia, according to data compiled by the AARP.  Since the CDC revised its masking guidelines, Massachusetts has recommended that people who are not fully vaccinated mask up in public places. Maine also is urging people in eight counties with high transmission levels to wear masks in indoor public places.

What about in Rhode Island?

Rhode Island has followed the CDC’s guidance in recommending that all students, teachers and staff in Pre-K through 12 schools wear masks indoors. But Governor Daniel J. McKee said this week that he has no plans to resume the state’s masking mandates, which were lifted on July 6.  “We're doing okay right now, “ McKee told reporters Tuesday. “And so I'm not going to signal to the people in the state of Rhode Island that somehow we should be taking a step back on opening our economy…” 

Are more vaccine mandates coming to Rhode Island?

Lifespan and Care New England, the state’s two largest health systems, have said they will require employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Rhode Island also was the first state in the country where all public and private colleges and universities required students to be vaccinated prior to returning to campus in the fall. Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker has ordered vaccinations for all employees at nursing homes and other long-term health care facilities. Rhode Island has no mandate for nursing home workers, about 72% of whom are vaccinated, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The Providence Journal reported Thursday that the McKee administration is considering a COVID-19 vaccination mandate for state workers.

Are any communities in Rhode Island asking people to mask up?

The City of Central Falls as well as Newport, which is a major tourist destination, are asking people to wear masks inside city-owned buildings. But in Woonsocket, fewer than half of all residents (45%) are fully vaccinated, the lowest in the state. And only 41% of 18- to 24-year-olds in Woonsocket have had at least one dose of a vaccine, according to an analysis last month by William C. Goedel, an epidemiologist at Brown University School of Public Health. Woonsocket has made no move to impose any new masking requirements. 

If someone is fully vaccinated, why would they wear a mask?

Being fully vaccinated protects you from becoming seriously ill or being hospitalized or dying from COVID-19. But no vaccine offers 100% protection. A small percentage of fully vaccinated people will develop so-called breakthrough infections. And though these people are unlikely to become seriously ill, they can still spread the virus to some of the estimated 205,000 Rhode Islanders to other people who are not vaccinated. And some of those unvaccinated people could get seriously ill or die from the virus.

What does the outbreak in Provincetown, MA tell us about the risk of breakthrough infections?

Public health officials reported about 900 cases of COVID-19 in the outbreak on Cape Cod, and about three-quarters of the people infected had been vaccinated. But of all those infected, just seven people were hospitalized as a result of the outbreak and nobody has died. CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told reporters earlier this week that the outbreak on Cape Cod is proof that the vaccines and other public health measures -- including testing, contact tracing and indoor masking -- are working.

How is Rhode Island’s vaccination rate compared with the rest of the country?

About 72% of all Rhode Island adults (18+) are fully vaccinated, ranking it fifth highest in the country as of Thursday, according to CDC data compiled by The New York Times. But Rhode Island's vaccination rate drops to 62% when you include residents of all ages. Rhode Island is just behind Massachusetts and Connecticut, where about 75% of adults are fully vaccinated. And vaccination rates vary significantly within Rhode Island by community. That’s especially important when we’re talking about the much more contagious Delta variant.

How high is the risk of contracting the Delta variant in Rhode Island? 

The CDC considers a high transmission rate to be when new COVID-19 cases hit 100 per 100,000 people. Rhode Island crossed that threshold on Aug. 2, and and the seven-day average of new cases on Thursday was nearly three times that. McKee said he expected we could see cases double again in the next few weeks. Public health experts say the best hope of curbing the spread of the Delta variant everywhere is for more people to get vaccinated. 

Health reporter Lynn Arditi can be reached at larditi@thepublicsradio.org. Follow her on Twitter @LynnArditi