CDC recommends vaccinated individuals wear masks in public, indoor spacesThe CDC Roybal Campus. Source: CDC.gov
Atlanta, GA — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has announced new mask guidance and is recommending that vaccinated individuals wear masks in public, indoor spaces and that everyone in K-12 schools wear masks regardless of vaccination status, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said during a virtual press conference on Tuesday, July 27.
“The delta variant is showing every day its willingness to outsmart us and to be an opportunist in areas where we have not shown a fortified response against it,” Walensky said. “This week our data shows that delta remains the predominant variant circulating in the United States.”
She added that information on the delta variant from several states and other countries shows that in rare situation some vaccinated people who contract the delta variant after vaccination may be contagious and could spread the virus to others. This new finding warrants an update to the CDC’s guidance, Walensky said.
“In areas with substantial and high transmission, CDC recommends fully vaccinated people wear masks in public, indoor settings to help prevent the spread of the delta variant and protect others, this includes schools,” Walensky said.
She defined substantial transmission as areas that have 50 to 100 cases per 100,000 people over a seven day period. High transmission is places that have more than 100 cases in a seven day period per 100,000 people.
The CDC is also recommending masks in schools as children under 12 years old aren’t eligible for the vaccines, only about 30% of kids 12 to 17 years old are fully vaccinated and there are more cases of COVID-19, particularly with the delta variant, Walensky said.
“CDC recommends that everyone in K to12 schools wear a mask indoors, including teachers, staff, students and visitors regardless of vaccination status,” Walensky said. “Children should return to full time in-person learning in the fall with proper prevention strategies in place.”
Currently, DeKalb County Schools and Atlanta Public Schools will require students to wear masks and City Schools of Decatur will require masks for elementary and middle school students, and unvaccinated high school students.
The CDC continues to strongly encourage everyone to get vaccinated. The vaccines continue to prevent severe illness, hospitalizations and death, even with the delta variant. It also helps reduce the spread of the virus, Walensky said. Although, vaccinated individuals continue to represent a small amount of transmission around the country, she added.
The CDC continues to recommend that those who are unvaccinated get vaccinated and continue masking until they are fully vaccinated.
“I think we still largely are in a pandemic of the unvaccinated. The vast majority of transmission, the vast majority of severe disease, hospitalization and death is almost exclusively happening among unvaccinated people, which is why we still very much want to double down on making sure people continue to get vaccinated,” Walensky said.
“That said, if you have a vaccinated individual who is in a place that was substantial or high transmission, they’re contacting a lot of people, one in 20, one in 10 of those contacts could potentially lead to a breakthrough infection if you have effectiveness of 90 to 95%. So that’s why we’re saying in areas of substantial or high transmission, even if you are vaccinated, that we believe it’s important to wear a mask in those settings,” Walensky added.
The agency is actively conducting outbreak investigations of what is occurring in places that are having clusters.
“What we’ve learned in that context is that when we examine the rarer breakthrough infections and we look at the amount of virus in those people, it is pretty similar to the amount of virus in unvaccinated people,” Walensky said.
The CDC also recommends 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. The highest spread 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.”
Local cities have yet to make a determination on what this new guidance means for their cities. Decatur and Avondale Estates previously had mask mandates.
The city of Clarkston, as of June 30, has mask mandate that is limited to public buildings.
“We are continuing to monitor the situation and track the case numbers and will see what specific guidance the CDC recommends,” Decatur Mayor Patti Garrett said.
The city of Tucker did not previously have a mask mandate and Communications Director Matt Holmes said the city will also be watching and evaluating the guidance from the CDC.
The largest concern of public health officials is the possibility for new variants to be able to evade the current vaccines, although the U.S. is not there yet, Walensky said.
“For the amount of virus that is circulating in this country largely among unvaccinated people, the largest concern that, I think, we in public health and science are worried about is that virus and the potential mutations away we are from a very transmissible virus that has the potential to evade our vaccines in terms of how it protects us from severe disease and death,” she said.
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