The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued new guidance Tuesday recommending vaccinated Americans resume wearing masks indoors under certain circumstances as the Delta variant surges.
The Delta variant is responsible for 83% of analyzed COVID-19 cases, the CDC announced July 20. The country overall has seen an uptick in cases, although the increase is mostly seen in areas with a lower vaccination rate, according to The Wall Street Journal. The highly transmissible variant has sparked concern among officials, with White House chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci confirming Sunday that the CDC was considering reimposing mask mandates for vaccinated individuals.
CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told reporters Tuesday that the updated guidelines are for vaccinated individuals living in high transmission areas of the country. This effort is aimed in part at protecting immunocompromised people and unvaccinated individuals, including children under 12 who are not yet eligible for the shots.
“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,” Walensky told reporters.
The CDC also issued new guidance for students in grades K-12, recommending everyone – regardless of vaccination status – wears masks in classrooms. It’s not clear how this guidance will jive with the at least eight states that have banned schools from requiring a COVID-19 vaccination and masks.
The CDC previously recommended masks for students who were not yet fully vaccinated.
“This includes schools,” Walensky said Tuesday. “CDC recommends that everyone in K-12 schools wear a mask indoors, including teachers, staff, students and visitors, regardless of vaccination status. Children should return to full-time, in-person learning in the fall with proper prevention strategies in place.”
President Joe Biden previously announced that masks were no longer needed for Americans while outside in small groups back in April. In May, the CDC dropped mask mandates for vaccinated individuals for indoors as well. Walensky said at the time that “anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities, large or small, without wearing a mask or physically distancing.”
While the updated guidance does not require all vaccinated Americans to resume wearing masks, it represents the growing concern among officials and the administration regarding the Delta variant. The White House has continued pushing vaccinations amid the surge and recently adopted a new talking point declaring that the current pandemic “is among the unvaccinated.” (RELATED: REPORT: The DNC Wants Phone Companies To Police Text Messages For Vaccine Misinformation)
“This is not a decision that we … have made lightly,” Walensky said Tuesday. “This weighs heavily on me.”
Medical experts note that while vaccinated individuals can still contract COVID-19, they are typically protected from serious illness. The CDC announced that 97% of people hospitalized from COVID-19 are unvaccinated, a point that White House press secretary Jen Psaki has highlighted.
“I think think first we’re in a very different place than we were six to seven months ago as it relates to the virus,” Psaki said Friday after refusing to give reporters the specific number of breakthrough cases among vaccinated staffers at the White House. “And as many medical experts have said inside and outside of the government of those who are vaccinated are protected of serious illness, most are asymptomatic, if they are individuals who are vaccinated who get the virus.”