The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed course on some masking guidelines on Tuesday, recommending that even vaccinated people resume wearing masks indoors in parts of the United States where the delta variant of the coronavirus is fueling outbreaks of disease. ‘infection.
Citing new information on the ability of the variant to spread among those vaccinated, the CDC also recommended indoor masks for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to schools nationwide, regardless of the condition. vaccination status.
In other developments, President Joe Biden said his administration was considering requiring all federal workers to be vaccinated. His comments came a day after the Department of Veterans Affairs became the first federal agency to require its healthcare workers to receive the vaccine.
The new mask guidelines follow recent decisions in Los Angeles and St. Louis to revert to indoor mask warrants amid a spike in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations that have been particularly severe in the south. The country records an average of more than 57,000 cases per day and 24,000 hospitalizations related to COVID-19.
Guidelines on masks in indoor public places apply in parts of the country with at least 50 new cases per 100,000 people over the past week. That includes 60% of U.S. counties, officials said.
Most new infections in the United States continue to involve unvaccinated people. So-called “breakthrough” infections, which usually cause milder illness, can occur in people who are vaccinated. When earlier strains of the virus predominated, those vaccinated infected had low levels of the virus and were considered unlikely to spread the virus much, CDC director Dr Rochelle Walensky said.
But with the delta variant, the level of virus in infected vaccinated people is “indistinguishable” from the level of virus in the nose and throat of unvaccinated people, Walensky said.
Data has emerged over the past two days from more than 100 samples from multiple states and one other country. It is not published and the CDC has not published it. But “it is worrying enough that we feel like we have to act,” Walensky said.
People who are vaccinated “have the potential to pass this virus on to others,” she said.
During much of the pandemic, the CDC advised Americans to wear masks outside if they were within 6 feet of each other.
Then, in April, as vaccination rates rose sharply, the agency relaxed its guidelines on wearing masks outdoors, saying fully vaccinated Americans no longer need to cover their faces unless they are ‘they are not found in a large crowd of strangers. In May, the guidelines were further relaxed for fully vaccinated people, allowing them to stop wearing masks outside in crowds and in most indoor environments.
The guidelines still called for masks to be worn in crowded indoor environments, such as buses, planes, hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters, but they paved the way for the reopening of workplaces and homes. other places.
Subsequent guidelines from the CDC said that fully vaccinated people no longer needed to wear masks in schools.
For months, COVID cases, deaths and hospitalizations steadily declined, but those trends began to change in early summer as the delta variant, a mutated and more transmissible version of the virus, began to spread. widely, especially in areas with low vaccination. rates.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the delta variant has changed the country’s COVID-19 outlook since the CDC relaxed the masking recommendations.
“It’s their job. Their job is to look at changing information, changing data, an evolving historic pandemic, and providing guidance to the American public, ”Psaki said.
“What has not changed,” she added, “is the fact that vaccinated people enjoy enormous protection against serious illness, hospitalization and death.”
Some public health experts have said they believe the CDC’s previous decision was based on good science. But those experts were also critical, noting that there had been no call for Americans to document their vaccination status, which created an honor system. Unvaccinated people who didn’t want to wear masks in the first place saw an opportunity to do whatever they wanted, they said.
“If all the unvaccinated people were in charge and wore a mask indoors, we wouldn’t see this increase,” said Dr Ali Khan, a former CDC disease investigator who is now dean of the College of Public Health from the University of Nebraska.
Lawrence Gostin, professor of public health law at Georgetown University, drew a similar conclusion.
“It was quite predictable that when they (the CDC) made their announcement, masking would no longer be the norm, and that’s exactly what happened,” Gostin said.
The CDC can be seen as a “flip-flop,” he said, because there hasn’t been a widely recognized change in science, he said. In addition, it is unlikely to change the behavior of the people who need to wear masks the most.
“I don’t think you can actually go back,” he said.
Walensky said she was aware of the criticisms and concerns, and she acknowledged that many Americans are weary of the pandemic and do not want to revert to prevention measures. But she said new scientific information forced the decision to change the guidelines again.
“It’s not something I took lightly,” she said.
Ken Thigpen, a retired respiratory therapist who now works for a medical device maker, is fully vaccinated and stopped wearing his mask in public after the CDC changed its guidelines in May. But he started reconsidering the matter last week after his work took him to hospitals in Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Florida, where he saw medical centers inundated with COVID-patients. 19.
“This delta variant is intense. It’s so transmissible that we have to do something to tamp it down, ”he said.
“I loved it when I could call the hospitals and they said, ‘We actually shut down our COVID department today or we only have two COVID patients,’” he recalls. “And now we’re opening the services again, and the numbers are going crazy. “
Associated Press editors Aamer Madhani in Washington and Heather Hollingsworth in Mission, Kansas contributed to this report.
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