The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced changes to its guidance on masks, calling on vaccinated people to wear them indoors in certain situations, including in all K-12 schools. The news comes roughly two months after the CDC relaxed its recommendations for some indoor mask-wearing, but as the Delta variant adds new complications to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The CDC recommends fully vaccinated people wear masks in public, indoor settings to help prevent the spread of the Delta variant and protect others,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Tuesday. “This includes schools. CDC recommends that everyone in K to 12 schools wear a mask indoors, including teachers, staff, students, and visitors, regardless of vaccination status. Children should return to full-time, in-person learning in the fall with proper prevention strategies in place.” She added the CDC is recommending that community leaders “encourage vaccination and universal masking to prevent further outbreaks in areas of substantial and high transmission.”
“With the Delta variant, vaccinating more Americans now is more urgent than ever," Walensky said. “The highest threat of cases and severe outcomes is happening in places with low vaccination rates and among unvaccinated people. This moment — and most importantly, the associated illness, suffering, and death — could have been avoided with higher vaccination coverage in this country.”
“COVID-19 continues to present many challenges and has exacted a tremendous toll on our nation,” she said. "We continue to follow the science closely and update guidance should the science shift again. We must take every step we can to stop the Delta variant and end this pandemic."
The updated news alters guidance issued on May 13. At that time, as Yahoo! News reported, CDC director Rochelle Walensky said, “Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities, large or small, without wearing a mask or physical distancing.” Even with that shift, guidance to wear masks remained in place in health care settings, detention facilities, houseless shelters, and on public transportation, including buses and trains.
“In June we were in this virtuous cycle, where cases were going down, people were getting vaccinated. Everyone said happy days are here again and let their guard down,” Robert Wachter, chairman of the department of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, told the Washington Post. “When things change, they don’t change in a linear fashion; they change in an exponential fashion.”
“Nobody wants to go backward, but you have to deal with the facts on the ground, and the facts on the ground are that it’s a pretty scary time and there are a lot of vulnerable people,” Wachter told the Post. “I think the biggest thing we got wrong was not anticipating that 30% of the country would choose not to be vaccinated.”
According to the CDC’s COVID Data Tracker, 56.8% of the total U.S. population has received at least one dose and 49.1% are fully vaccinated. Those numbers jump to 66.5% for one dose and 57.5% for fully vaxxed when you exclude people under 12, for whom there is currently no authorized vaccine to use. At the urging of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), vaccine trials are underway for people ages 5 to 11, the New York Times and Washington Post reported this week. One FDA official told NBC News earlier this month that vaccines for people under 12 could be ready sometime this winter.
The CDC news comes as some areas have reimposed local mask mandates amid surging case numbers. Several vaccines have proven effective against COVID-19, even from the Delta variant. But there are concerns that vaccinated people could still be infected in “breakthrough” infections and transmit the highly contagious viral mutation.
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Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue