Health

The CDC Now Says Some Vaccinated People Should Wear Masks Indoors Again

The new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention mask guidelines now say that fully vaccinated people should still wear face coverings in some circumstances and in some areas of the country. 

People who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 should wear a face mask indoors if they’re in a part of the country with a “substantial or high” amount of coronavirus transmission, the CDC mask recommendations say. This is specifically “to maximize protection from the delta variant and prevent possibly spreading it to others,” the CDC says. 

To find out the level of COVID-19 transmission in your area of the country, you can check the CDC’s tracker here. According to that data, more than 46% of U.S. counties have high transmission right now and another 17% have substantial transmission, so the new guidelines affect people in more than two-thirds of the country.

Additionally, the CDC says that some people “might choose to wear a mask regardless of the level of transmission” if they have a weakened immune system, are at a higher risk for severe COVID-19 complications due to their age or an underlying illness, or if someone in their household “has a weakened immune system, is at increased risk for severe disease, or is unvaccinated.” That likely includes the many vaccinated people in the U.S. who live with children who are too young to be vaccinated.

Finally, the new guidelines were also updated to make it clear that vaccinated people should get tested three to five days after exposure to someone with a confirmed or suspected COVID-19 infection—whether or not they have symptoms. And they should wear a mask in indoor public settings for 14 days after the exposure or until they get a negative test result.

These recommendations are in stark contrast to those released in May, which said that fully vaccinated people didn’t need to wear masks indoors at all. But the guidelines are in line with those from the World Health Organization, which state that fully vaccinated people should continue to wear masks—along with social distancing and frequent hand-washing—as new coronavirus variants emerge.

Additionally, experts say that, in the context of the spread of the delta coronavirus variant, it makes sense to advise extra caution in some situations. Just last week, Anthony Fauci, M.D., said that some fully vaccinated people “might want to consider” wearing a mask in certain situations in order “to go the extra mile of safety even though you’re vaccinated when you’re indoors, particularly in crowded places.”

The delta variant, which now accounts for more than 83% of COVID-19 cases in the U.S., is thought to be highly transmissible, meaning it can spread easily from person to person. Although the COVID-19 vaccines still provide effective protection against this variant (and, crucially, greatly reduce the risk for hospitalization or death due to the virus), the new CDC mask guidelines reflect experts’ evolving understanding of how this variant works. 

Fully vaccinated people can still get the infection and, possibly, spread it to others, the CDC said on Twitter, though vaccinated people make up only a “small amount of total transmission.” Breakthrough infections in vaccinated people appear to be quite rare, but wearing a mask—even when fully vaccinated—will continue to help protect you and those around you. Unfortunately, the new guidelines are a reminder that the pandemic is still happening—and it will take more work from all of us to truly contain it. 

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