What’s the latest on masks and booster shots?



A Florida federal judge on Monday voided the national mask mandate covering public transportation — including airlines, trains, buses, subway and ride-sharing vehicles — that was set to expire that same day but had been recently extended by the CDC until May 3. The Transportation Security Administration followed up by saying it would stop enforcing the mandate. But even so, Chatham County Public Health Director Mike Zelek emphasized that a lack of a mandate doesn’t mean there’s no recommendation against wearing a mask.

Masks still reduce your chances of getting and giving COVID-19 — and other respiratory bugs — and there continue to be situations where masks are required, he said.

“First, if you are recovering from COVID-19 (tested positive within the past 10 days), stay away from others for at least the first five days and wear a mask until at least day 10,” he said. “If you have recently been exposed to COVID-19 or have any symptoms, wear a mask. Many will continue to wear masks in crowded indoor settings, especially those who are at higher risk of severe illness. This becomes more important if metrics rise but is not a bad idea even now.”

Chatham County libraries continue to have N-95s for free at each of their locations. Each household can stop by and get a box of 20 as long as supplies last. Zelek’s department has given out nearly 200,000 N-95s so far.


Americans over age 60 should get a second booster shot of a coronavirus vaccine, Dr. Ashish K. Jha, the new White House Covid-19 response coordinator, said Sunday on Fox News Sunday. He cited data from Israel that a fourth shot significantly reduced infections and deaths among older people there, according to a New York Times report.

On March 29, the Food and Drug Administration authorized second booster shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna coronavirus vaccines for everyone 50 and older.

“Studies continually show that booster doses of mRNA COVID-19 vaccines provide boosted protection, pun intended, against severe illness, hospitalization and death from COVID-19,” said Zach Horner, the health department’s public information specialist.

He quoted a CDC report showing that those who received a third dose of a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine “were much more protected against hospitalization” than those with just two doses.

“Thankfully, booster doses are available across Chatham County, meaning that getting that extra boost of protection is as simple as picking up groceries or stopping for a coffee,” he said. “It’s also just as productive, if not more so.”

Those eligible for a second booster dose include people 50 years of age and older and those who are moderately or severely immunocompromised. Horner said the CDC recommended this additional dose because of the increased risk of severe disease in these populations.

COVID-19 booster shots are available anywhere you can get a vaccine.


In Chatham County, Optum continues to offer free COVID-19 testing in Pittsboro (Old Ag Building, now upstairs) and Siler City (Medical Office Building behind Chatham Hospital). For all options, visit www.chathamcountync.gov/coronavirustesting.

“While COVID-19 testing options are fairly widespread, we recognize that folks may not always have the flexibility to get them at a drive-up testing site or doctor’s office,” Horner said. “We are now offering at-home COVID-19 tests free of charge at each of our offices in Pittsboro (80 East St.) and Siler City (1000 S. 10th Ave). All Chatham residents can come to the lobbies of our offices during our operational hours (8-5, Monday to Friday) and pick up one box of at-home tests per household. There are instructions on how to use the tests as well as information on the expiration dates of the tests.”

Like Zelek, Horner emphasized that just because COVID-19 trends have decreased in Chatham County and beyond doesn’t mean the virus is gone.

“We want to make sure everyone is equipped, and these tests are part of the equation,” he said. “If you do test positive for COVID-19, there are treatment options available that are reliable, safe and authorized. Get that treatment as soon as possible once prescribed by a medical professional.”

For information about COVID treatments in N.C., go to the NCDHHS website. 


The Food and Drug Administration issued an Emergency Use Authorization for the InspectIR COVID-19 Breathalyzer test last Thursday. The test is designed, according to the CDC, to look for five compounds associated with COVID-19 infection in the breath of an individual 18 years of age and older, whether or not they display symptoms. According to Horner, the CDC says a positive result from this test “should be treated as presumptive and confirmed” by other means, like a PCR test. As of now, these tests can only be administered by “a qualified, trained operator under the supervision of a health care provider licensed or authorized by state law to prescribe tests” in a testing environment.

“In short, these tests provide another tool in determining whether someone has a COVID-19 infection but should not be taken as gospel,” Horner said. “CDC and FDA documentation emphasize that these breathalyzer tests should not be used as the sole diagnostic tool, the only thing that can say whether or not someone has COVID-19. It is best practice, according to these agencies, to perform a follow-up test, preferably a PCR test, in either occasion to verify results. And other tests, like at-home rapid tests, will likely continue to be more commonly used for the foreseeable future.”