The CDC is changing its mask guidance for Americans as cases of the Delta COVID variant surge. The CDC now says vaccinated Americans should wear a mask indoors where coronavirus cases are substantial or high. That applies to just over 60% of the country.
"The viral load of the unvaccinated people is indistinguishable from the breakthrough infections from the vaccinated people," said CDC Director Rochelle Walensky.
The change up comes about two months after the CDC said vaccinated Americans could lose the mask in most situations. But now, new evidence that even vaccinated Americans with so-called "breakthrough" cases can still transmit the virus to others.
"The reality is we are dealing with a much different strain of this virus, than we were even earlier in the spring back in May when the masking guidance was, was done, provided by the CDC at that time," said White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki.
The CDC is also recommending all children and teachers in K-12 schools wear a mask regardless of vaccination status. A challenging task since there’s a patchwork of differing rules with some states outright banning mask mandates for school districts and other states mandating masks or leaving it up to local leaders.
Only about 26% of 12 – 15 year olds are fully vaccinated, the lowest percentage of any eligible age group. And kids under 12 may not be able to get a vaccine until the end of 2021, at best.
"In those indoor settings, everyone should be masked and should mask and take other proper prevention strategies to keep those schools safe," Walensky said.
Ahead of CDC guidance, some cities like Los Angeles and St. Louis moved to mandate masks at indoor public areas.
"We simply have contagion rates that are unacceptably high, and unless we do something to put a barrier between the infected [and] the uninfected, we're going to see that rate escalate further," said Clay Dunagan, of the St. Louis Pandemic Task Force.
This new guidance comes as experts warn of a potential deadly fall, if more Americans aren’t vaccinated to slow the spread of the virus.