PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) – The messages coming from Peoria County health leaders, Thursday, come down to — get vaccinated, wear a mask (if required), and be honest.

In the week after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its mask guidance for fully vaccinated individuals and Governor J.B. Pritzker announced a new executive order in support, local health leaders attributed the new step forward to the COVID-19 vaccines.

“That’s the takeaway from this guidance is that vaccines work,” Monica Hendrickson, public health administrator for the Peoria City/County Health Department, said.

“The reason for masking is to prevent from getting sick as well as transmitting the virus,” Hendrickson said. “There’s a very low risk, once you’re fully vaccinated, of getting sick and transmitting it.”

However, Hendrickson mentioned Peoria County is only 38% fully vaccinated, saying two out of three Peorians still haven’t received the potentially life-saving shot.

She acknowledged with this information, fully vaccinated people may still be hesitant about unmasking in certain areas. She said the decision to ultimately unmasked, in areas where allowed, is something they’ll have to think about and make the best choice for themselves, using herself as an example.

“I don’t have any high risks and I have small children that are unable to get vaccinated so for me it becomes kind of that balancing of understanding the risks that I have but also to my children,” Hendrickson said. “That’s going to be a lot of what people have to grapple with coming kind of out of the pandemic once you are vaccinated and that’s going to be a personal understanding and a personal choice.”

Hendrickson did mention those who are fully vaccinated and are high risk may still want to wear a mask out of caution.

“Understand your risk and make sure that you’re prepared to respond to that risk, so masking is really key,” Hendrickson said. “If you’re a high-risk individual, I would continue to wear a mask because that’s a great way to protect you as more and more people get vaccinated.”

While it’s essentially impossible to tell who’s been vaccinated and who hasn’t, Hendrickson addressed concerns about people being dishonest regarding their vaccination status.

She said going forward will be a trust exercise and those who haven’t gotten their vaccines should be direct about their status, wear a mask, and consider getting the shot to protect themselves and their neighbors.

“Be honest because you don’t know the person that you’re standing beside, they may be fully vaccinated but they may be immunocompromised,” Hendrickson said. “For their sake, if you’re not fully vaccinated wear a mask.”

She also said the tri-county area is continuing to improve with COVID-19 metrics, saying the numbers for daily COVID-19 infections and hospitalization are going down.

In the push to vaccinate more of the population, health officials are also making a plea to parents to get their children vaccinated.

Dr. Nora Philbin, medical director of pediatrics for UnityPoint Health – Central Illinois, mentioned the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved the Pfizer vaccine for 12-15-year-olds.

She said the virus doesn’t skip over children, and it’s better to be safe than sorry.

“Your children are at risk of contracting COVID-19 infection and becoming seriously ill,” Philbin said. “We now have the ability to protect our adolescents from this illness with a safe and effective vaccine so I recommend that you have your teenager vaccinated as soon as they are eligible.”