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Some Arkansas health officials suggest still wearing masks out in public

"I think it's both being respectful and being a leader. If you're wearing the mask you're reminding people the virus is still present in our communities."

LITTLE ROCK, Ark — Some health officials in Arkansas are advocating that you wear a mask when you're out in public and don't know if others around you are vaccinated, even if you are fully protected.

Dr. Joe Thompson, President and CEO of the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement, described it as a "personal choice."

"I think it's both being respectful and being a leader. If you're wearing the mask you're reminding people the virus is still present in our communities," he said.

Dr. Jennifer Dillaha, with the Arkansas Department of Health, said people should do what they feel the safest with, based on the CDC guidelines.

"I think it is never wrong to be cautious and that people should do what they're most comfortable doing when they're fully vaccinated," she said.

People who are fully vaccinated can feel confident in public, according to Dillaha, but with hospitalizations and ventilator use on the rise, she is strongly encouraging people to take steps now.

Dillaha said this doesn't just mean get the shot, if you haven't.

"This also means that people who are fully vaccinated should continue to model the behavior that is needed to stop the spread of COVID-19 in Arkansas," she said.

Dillaha believes it's important for us to consider those who can't be vaccinated yet, like children.

"It's hard for children to wear masks if the adults are not wearing masks, so that is one benefit of people wearing masks, even if they are fully vaccinated," she said.

The CDC guidelines, put out in May, are different from these suggestions. The guidelines state that people who are fully vaccinated don't need to worry about masks in most places.

But Thompson believes the piece of cloth can serve as a sign.

"For those individuals that have not moved from unprotected to protected by getting a vaccine, it reminds them that the threat is still present," he said. 

This call to action comes at a time when Thompson said health officials are afraid the state may lose control.

"We need to move people from the unprotected group to the protected group through vaccination. That is the number one message and the most important thing for people to hear," he said.

Both Dr. Dillaha and Dr. Thompson said in public places, like grocery stores and retail shops, they have their masks on. When they are around people they know who have been fully vaccinated, they take it off.