Masking Guidance in Flux as Delta Variant Surges

June 30, 2021 — Despite concerns of a spreading delta variant of the coronavirus, the CDC has no plans to walk back its guidance that fully vaccinated people can skip the mask when indoors.

In May, the CDC said that people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 no longer have to wear masks or physically distance, regardless of the location or size of the gathering.

The CDC has not changed its position on masking, even while warning that the delta variant could become the dominant strain in the United States. The variant now accounts for 1 in every 5 new infections in the United States, up from about 1 in every 10 the week before.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, clarified the CDC’s position Wednesday on the Todayshow.

“If you’re vaccinated, you’re safe from the variants that are circulating here in the United States,” she said. “We would suggest that you look to your local policies because we would like our policymakers, even if you’re one of the one-third of people vaccinated in their area, to adhere to the policies that are made to protect the unvaccinated.”

When asked if fully vaccinated Americans don’t need to wear face masks, Walensky said, “That’s exactly right.”

Some scientists say the CDC would create more problems if it switched directions and reimposed a widespread face mask mandate.

“It’s difficult to walk that back,” David Michaels, PhD, an epidemiologist and professor at the George Washington School of Public Health, told The New York Times. But Michaels said that because of the spread of the delta variant, it would be “extremely dangerous to continue the cultural norm of no one wearing a mask.”

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization is sticking with its recommendation that everybody, vaccinated or not, wear a mask.

“People cannot feel safe just because they had the two doses. They still need to protect themselves,” Mariangela Simao, MD, assistant director-general for access to medicines and health products for the World Health Organization, said last week during a news conference.

Vaccine alone won’t stop community transmission. People need to continue to use masks consistently, be in ventilated spaces, hand hygiene … the physical distance, avoid crowding. This still continues to be extremely important, even if you’re vaccinated when you have a community transmission ongoing.”

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