CDC reverses earlier guidance and recommends indoor mask wearing for vaccinated individuals

By | July 28, 2021

Photo: Orbon Alija/Getty Images

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention yesterday reversed earlier guidance and now recommends that vaccinated individuals wear masks indoors to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The change is due to the spread of the more contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus.

From June 19–July 23, COVID-19 cases increased approximately 300% nationally, followed by increases in hospitalizations and deaths, driven by the highly transmissible Delta variant, the CDC said.

Individuals who wear masks are less likely to contract the virus and to suffer illness severe enough for hospitalization, but are able to transmit COVID-19 to others.

An estimated 49% of Americans are fully vaccinated.

The CDC said given the spread of the highly transmissible Delta variant, local decision-makers should assess the level of community transmission, health system capacity, vaccination coverage, capacity for early detection of increases in COVID-19 cases and populations at risk for severe outcomes.

Getting vaccinated is the number one means for protection but the CDC said additional layered prevention strategies will be needed in the short-term to minimize preventable morbidity and mortality.

WHY THIS MATTERS

The Delta variant is more than two times as transmissible as the original strains circulating at the start of the pandemic and is causing large, rapid increases in infections, which could compromise the capacity of some local and regional healthcare systems. 

Until vaccination coverage is high and community transmission is low, public health practitioners, as well as schools, businesses, and institutions need to regularly assess the need for prevention strategies to avoid stressing health care capacity and imperiling adequate care for both COVID-19 and other non–COVID-19 conditions, the CDC said. 

CDC recommends that public health practitioners and organizations prioritize prevention strategies for indoor settings. 

The main mode by which persons are infected with SARS-CoV-2 is through exposure to respiratory fluids carrying infectious virus. The risk for transmission in outdoor settings is low.

Unvaccinated persons and those with certain immunocompromising conditions remain at substantial risk for infection, severe illness and death, especially in areas where the level of SARS-CoV-2 community transmission is high. 

No one strategy is sufficient to prevent transmission, and multiple interventions should be used concurrently to reduce the spread of disease, the CDC said. 

THE LARGER TREND

In the United States, COVID-19 cases and deaths have markedly declined since their peak in early January 2021, due in part to increased vaccination coverage, the CDC said. 

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky recently called COVID-19 “a pandemic of the unvaccinated.”

Numerous providers and payers have come out in support of mandatory vaccinations for healthcare workers.

Twitter: @SusanJMorse
Email the writer: susan.morse@himssmedia.com

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