Ahead of sharp increases in COVID cases across all 50 states, the CDC is expected to shift mask guidance for fully vaccinated people
As COVID-19 cases continue to rise in every single state thanks to the spread of the Delta variant and a decrease in vaccination levels among eligible recipients, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is expected to change its guidelines to recommend that fully vaccinated individuals resume wearing masks indoors, with certain caveats.
According to the New York Times, the CDC will be walking back its relaxed mask guidance from May by announcing that fully immunized people should wear masks indoors. PBS NewsHour White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor clarified the report on Twitter, noting that the agency would make these recommendations for people who live with or are in close contact with immunocompromised people or unvaccinated people such as children. Alcindor confirmed the updates from a White House source, stating that the CDC’s specific language is “still being finalized and that the recommendation may land only on fully vaccinated people wearing masks indoors when out in public if living with immunocompromised people.”
Among the rise in COVID cases includes breakthrough infections due to the highly contagious Delta variant, which seems to indicate that even though the vaccines are effective in preventing death or serious illness, fully immunized people are still able to contract and spread the virus, per the NYT. The CDC’s prior guidance of relying on an honor system for those who are not vaccinated still leaves a high level of infection risk for those who cannot take the vaccine due to immune conditions or allergies, as well as children under 12 — none of which are eligible to be vaccinated yet.
CNN reports CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky is expected to make the announcement during a briefing at 3 p.m. ET today after a meeting on Sunday, and public health experts agree that reinstating mask guidance indoors is a critical step to help bring case levels down.
“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,” Robert Wachter, chairman of the department of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco told The Washington Post. “I think the biggest thing we got wrong was not anticipating that 30 percent of the country would choose not to be vaccinated.”
Wachter noted that back in June — before the sharp rise of the Delta variant — “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,” adding, “When things change, they don’t change in a linear fashion, they change in an exponential fashion.”
It’s clear that while many are ready to be done with the pandemic, the pandemic is not done with us — and increased safety measures, including masks and vaccines wherever possible — have never been more important.