(AP) – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reversed course Tuesday on some masking guidelines, recommending that even vaccinated people return to wearing masks indoors in parts of the U.S. where the coronavirus is surging.
Citing new information about the ability of the delta variant to spread among vaccinated people, the CDC also recommended indoor masks for all teachers, staff, students and visitors to schools, regardless of vaccination status.
The new guidance follows recent decisions in Los Angeles and St. Louis to revert to indoor mask mandates amid a spike in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations that have been especially bad in the South.
The country is averaging more than 57,000 cases a day and 24,000 COVID-19 hospitalizations.
Most new infections in the U.S. continue to be among unvaccinated people.
But “breakthrough” infections, which generally cause milder illness, can occur in vaccinated people.
“It sounds like a sensible recommendation based on the rapid emergence of the delta strain and its very high transmissibility,”
– Dr. George Conway, the director of Deschutes County Health.
According to data from the CDC, Deschutes, Crook and Jefferson counties are experiencing “high” or “substantial” levels of COVID transmission over the last week.
In Deschutes County, cases jumped 89% last week.
When earlier strains of the virus predominated, infected vaccinated people were found to have low levels of virus and were deemed 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 noses and throats of unvaccinated people, Walensky said.
The data emerged over the last couple of days from 100 samples.
It is unpublished, and the CDC has not released it.
But “it is concerning enough that we feel like we have to act,” Walensky said.
The new information “indicates that in rare occasions some vaccinated people infected with the delta variant after vaccination may be contagious…This new science is worrisome and unfortunately warrants an update to our recommendations.”
Vaccinated people “have the potential to spread that virus to others,” she said.