In a significant change of policy, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) abruptly changed their official guidance regarding masks on Tuesday. The move signaled a growing concern over the spread of the deadly COVID-19 virus at the hands of the Delta variant.
Change in Mask Guidance
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky made the announcement, citing the rapid rise of the Delta variant that has intensified the transmission of the virus. According to the new guidance, individuals living in areas with high or substantial transmission should go back to wearing masks indoors in public settings, even if they are fully vaccinated.Read More »
The new recommendations come on the heels of evidence indicating that those individuals with breakthrough cases after being vaccinated are still able to easily transmit the virus. The levels of the virus in these people who are both infected and previously vaccinated were found to be similar to positive and unvaccinated individuals. This new data points to vaccinated people being able to spread the virus easily even if they are not exhibiting symptoms due to the protection provided by the vaccine.
Change in Testing Guidance
In addition to the changes in the mask guidance, the CDC also updated its recommendations about testing within the vaccinated group. The CDC now advises that fully vaccinated individuals with known exposure to COVID-19 test three to five days after the initial exposure. This is a departure from the previous recommendation that said that fully vaccinated people did not need to test after exposure.
The CDC is also asking that all exposed people wear a mask in public indoor places for 14 days unless they have confirmed that they are negative.
CDC Offers Caveat
The CDC and other recognized health experts continue to assert that the vaccine offers a great deal of protection. The overwhelming majority of positive individuals are not vaccinated. This becomes even more apparent when looking at hospitalization and death rates in the vaccinated compared to the unvaccinated. Walensky said that recent data from the CDC demonstrates how the vaccine reduces the risk of symptomatic infection by seven times and the rate of hospitalization 20-fold.
However, as more people become vaccinated, it stands to reason that more people will become infected with the virus even if they have received their shot. Because breakthrough cases are still a small possibility, the updated mask guidance is designed to continue to mitigate the spread even among those that are vaccinated.
Where COVID-19 is Surging
In order to understand the latest guidance from the CDC, you have to know what areas in the country are seeing the highest spread of the virus. According to the CDC, almost two-thirds of all US counties have either high or substantial transmission of COVID-19. This breaks out to 46% of counties experiencing high transmission with 17% seeing substantial transmission.
The states with the highest level of community spread include Florida, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Missouri, and Louisiana. The region with the lowest level of community spread remains the Northeast.
What About Schools?
The CDC also addressed masks in schools on Tuesday, recommending that schools be included in these indoor settings. This encompasses teachers, students, staff, and visitors.
As a result, more and more school districts announced that they would be reinstating mask mandates in schools in order to align with the CDC guidance. The largest school district in Georgia, Gwinnett County, will now require masks even in the vaccinated population. School begins next week in this district, making the last-minute change a surprise to many.
Clark County Public Schools in Nevada also updated its guidance on Tuesday after the CDC announcement, requiring that anybody on school grounds wear masks regardless of their vaccination status. On the other side of the coin, Florida and Texas have banned mask mandates at schools, putting some districts in a difficult position if they want to reinstate the requirements.
According to a new report released by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) on Tuesday, over 38,600 kids and teenagers were diagnosed with COVID-19 last week alone. This marks a sharp uptick in confirmed cases when compared to the last few weeks. The news of this increase in cases comes just as many schools are planning to open their doors once again to students for in-person learning.
Federal Employee Vaccination Mandate
President Joe Biden is set to announce that all federal employees and contractors must be vaccinated. If they do not adhere to this requirement, they will be required to test regularly.
The official announcement of the new vaccination requirement is expected to come on Thursday. Biden will use this time to also announce new incentives to Americans in an effort to increase vaccination efforts. Vaccination numbers have come to a crawl in recent months.
It is not expected that Biden will impose this requirement on members of the US military.
The move to require vaccinations for federal employees comes after the city of Los Angeles announced on Tuesday that it will mandate its employees show proof of vaccination or agree to weekly testing.
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