CDC: Everyone should mask up indoors — whether they’re fully vaccinated or not — as the Delta variant sweeps the US

  • The CDC has published its new mask guidelines: Everyone should wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccine status.
  • Masks are particularly important in areas of high COVID-19 transmission and in schools, the CDC said.
  • The CDC said in May that masks were no longer necessary for fully vaccinated people.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending that fully vaccinated people put their masks back on indoors, in some settings, as the more transmissible Delta variant spreads quickly across the US.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said on Tuesday that in areas of the country with high coronavirus transmission, vaccinated people should wear a mask in any public, indoor settings.

The CDC is also recommending that everyone in K-12 schools should mask up indoors, regardless of their vaccination status, in line with recent recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The new guidelines are designed to help prevent vaccinated people from spreading the highly transmissible Delta variant, and to protect others from getting severely ill. 

Delta spreads more easily, even among the vaccinated

A masked high school student in the back of a crowded classroom, where everyone is wearing masks, raises his hand.

A classroom in Rennes, France, on the first day of school, September 1, 2020.

Damien Meyer/AFP via Getty Images

The Delta variant, which is now responsible for most of the COVID-19 cases in the US, is the main cause for more vigilance, even among vaccinated people.

Delta spreads both faster and easier than earlier-detected versions of the coronavirus.

Scientists are finding that Delta grows more rapidly inside the body, and that the viral load of an infected individual tends to be around 1,000 times higher with Delta, compared to the initial strains of the virus. 

This means even vaccinated people can both contract and transmit COVID-19 more easily than they used to. Their chances of landing in the hospital are still very low, though vaccinated people who have an increased risk of developing a more serious infection (the elderly and immunocompromised, for example) may want to be even more careful, experts say.

“What the Delta variant will do is that it will find any gap in our defenses,” infectious disease expert Dr. Hilary Babcock, medical director of infection prevention at Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s Hospitals in Missouri, recently told Insider.

“I don’t think anyone is suggesting that Delta can like get through your mask better or get around your mask better,” she added. “Masking and distancing still works for Delta. It’s just that you have to be more meticulous.”

‘Children are not supposed to die’

Young kids in masks walk up the stairs at primary school.

Students in their face masks go upstairs to their classrooms at Petri primary school in Dortmund, Germany, on August 12, 2020.

Ina Fassbender/AFP via Getty Images

Kids under 12, who can’t yet get vaccines in the US, are also at greater risk of getting and spreading the virus now than they were previously during the pandemic.

Some doctors are already beginning to raise the alarm about more children being hospitalized with COVID-19, particularly in lesser vaccinated areas of the US. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s official tally, 409 children under the age of 16 have died from COVID-19 in the US so far during the pandemic, and 281 of them were kids under the age of 12.

“I think we fall into this flawed thinking of saying that only 400 of the 600,000 deaths from COVID-19 have been in children,” Dr. Walensky said last week, while testifying before a Senate committee. “Children are not supposed to die.” 

One of the most concerning conditions that children can develop related to COVID-19 is multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C), a rare malfunctioning of internal organs, including the heart and lungs. MIS-C doesn’t usually pop up until several weeks after an initial COVID-19 infection, but it can happen after both mild and severe cases. Left untreated, it can be deadly. 

Masks provide an added layer of protection from infection. More vaccines and good airflow help, too. 

“We know how to actually have kids come back to the classroom and do it safely: ventilation, a reasonable amount of spacing, and strict mask use,” Dr. Andrew Pavia, the chief of pediatric infectious diseases at the University of Utah recently told Insider.

His state is one of at least eight nationwide (Arizona, Arkansas, Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, and Vermont) where schools are banned from implementing mask mandates. 

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