WASHINGTON – The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday changed its masking recommendations as it grows more concerned over the Delta variant of Covid-19, urging vaccinated people in certain areas of the country to resume wearing masks indoors in public areas.
Citing new information about the variant’s ability to spread among vaccinated people, the CDC also recommended indoor masks for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors at schools nationwide, regardless of vaccination status.
The guidance on masks in indoor public places applies in parts of the country with at least 50 new cases per 100,000 people in the last week. That includes 60 percent of U.S. counties, officials said.
The guidance for people who are unvaccinated remains the same: Continue masking until they are fully vaccinated.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky announced that the agency now recommends that people in areas with “high” or “substantial” Covid-19 transmission should resume wearing masks indoors. Nearly two-thirds of US counties have high or substantial transmission of Covid-19, according to CDC data; 46% of counties have high transmission and 17% have substantial transmission.”In recent days I have seen new scientific data from recent outbreak investigations showing that that Delta variant behaves uniquely differently from past strains of the virus that cause Covid-19,” Walensky told reporters.
She added,”This weighs heavily on me. I know that at 18 months through this pandemic, not only are people tired, they’re frustrated. We have mental health challenges in this country. We have a lot of continued sickness and death in this country. Our health systems are in some places being overrun for what is preventable and I know, in the context of all that, it is not a welcome piece of news that masking is going to be a part of people’s lives who have already been vaccinated.”
Most new infections in the U.S. continue to be among unvaccinated people. So-called breakthrough infections, which generally cause milder illness, can occur in vaccinated people. When earlier strains of the virus predominated, infected vaccinated people were found to have low levels of virus and were deemed unlikely to spread the virus much, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said.
But with the delta variant, the level of virus in infected vaccinated people is “indistinguishable” from the level of virus in the noses and throats of unvaccinated people, Walensky said.
The data emerged over the last couple of days from over 100 samples from several states and one other country. It is unpublished, and the CDC has not released it. But “it is concerning enough that we feel like we have to act,” Walensky said.
Vaccinated people “have the potential to spread that virus to others,” she said.