CDC Urges All People To Wear Face Masks in High Risk Areas

Kimberly Redmond  |

Video source: YouTube, ABC7

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its mask guidance on Tuesday, saying that in areas with high transmission levels of COVID-19, all people — vaccinated or not — should wear masks indoors. 

In announcing the change, the CDC also recommended that all adults and students wear masks in K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status.

The latest guidance revises recommendations from May, when the CDC said fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks, except in a few circumstances. 

The change comes amid the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant, which is taking aim at states with low vaccination rates and now accounts for 83% of cases, 97% of hospitalizations and 99.5% of deaths.

On Tuesday, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said new data has shown the variant behaves “uniquely differently” than previous strains and that “on rare occasions” fully vaccinated individuals could transmit the virus.

“This new science is worrisome and unfortunately warrants an update to our recommendations,” Walensky said. “We thought it was important for people to understand that they could pass the disease onto someone else and that is important in the case for example of vaccinated, individuals who might be going to visit an immunocompromised family member.”

After positive coronavirus cases, hospitalization rates and deaths steadily declined in recent months, the trend changed at the beginning of the summer when the Delta variant started to spread widely. 

The surge has forced officials in parts of the country, including Los Angeles and St. Louis, to reintroduce mask rules, capacity limits and other public health measures that have been largely rolled back in recent months.

The US is now averaging more than 57,000 cases and 24,000 hospitalizations each day.

Moreover, about 63% of the country is designated as an area with substantial or high transmission rates, according to the CDC. 

Walensky noted that vaccines authorized for emergency use in the US have worked well in protecting against severe illness or death caused by the Delta variant.

“But the big concern is that, [for] the next variant that might emerge, we’re just a few mutations away where it could potentially evade our vaccines,” she said.

The new guidance, Walensky hopes, will be temporary and lifted once more people become vaccinated and the amount of the virus circulating within communities decreases.

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"It is not a welcomed piece of news that masking is going to be a part of people's lives who have already been vaccinated," she said. "This new data weighs heavily on me, this new guidance weighed heavily on me and I just wanted to convey that this was not a decision that was taken lightly."

About 163.2 million people, 49.1% of US adults, have been fully vaccinated and 188.7 million, 56.8%, have received at least one dose of a vaccine.

Following the CDC’s announcement, President Joe Biden urged Americans to follow the latest guidance.  

“By following the science, and by doing our part by getting vaccinated, America can beat COVID,” the President stated.

“In the meantime, more vaccinations and mask wearing in the areas most impacted by the Delta variant will enable us to avoid the kind of lockdowns, shutdowns, school closures and disruptions we faced in 2020. Unlike 2020, we have both the scientific knowledge and the tools to prevent the spread of this disease. We are not going back to that,” he said.

Also on Tuesday, Biden said his administration may make it mandatory for federal workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19. 

During a visit to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Biden said it is “under consideration right now.”

NBC News noted that the White House has been under mounting pressure to begin requiring vaccines where it can as the national rate of vaccinations has stalled and new cases rise. 

Biden’s comments came a day after the Department of Veterans Affairs said it will require its frontline healthcare workers to be vaccinated, becoming the first federal agency to issue such a mandate.

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