In an effort to stop a wave of new coronavirus infections, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday called on all Americans, regardless of vaccination status, to wear masks indoors in places where the virus is spreading quickly.
The announcement reverses earlier CDC guidance from May, which said that fully vaccinated people could shed masks in nearly all indoor settings.
The rise of the fast-spreading Delta variant of the coronavirus, which now accounts for about 80 percent of new cases across the U.S., called for a change in tactics, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the agency, told reporters. She cited new research showing that some fully vaccinated individuals who get infected by the virus carry high enough levels of it that they are likely infectious.
“This new science is worrisome and, unfortunately, warrants an update to our recommendations,” Walensky said. “The Delta variant is showing every day its willingness to outsmart us, and to be an opportunist in areas where we have not shown a fortified response against it.”
The agency is asking all Americans living in areas where the spread of the coronavirus is substantial or high to wear masks in public indoor spaces. That would apply to any county that has had 50 or more new infections per 100,000 residents over the past seven days.
News reports Tuesday morning signaled that the CDC was likely to revise its masking guidelines. When asked around noon about the agency’s upcoming change, Gov. Gavin Newsom said he was looking forward to reviewing the new guidance in detail and that the state would issue its own statement within a “number of hours.”
Walensky reiterated that vaccines are still safe and highly effective against the virus, noting that those who aren’t fully vaccinated are about seven times more likely to get sick with COVID-19 and 20 times more likely to end up in the hospital from the disease compared to people who’ve gotten two doses of Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
She reiterated earlier comments that this has now become a pandemic of the unvaccinated, and that the best way to return to some semblance of normalcy is to boost vaccination rates.
“This moment, and, most importantly, the associated illness, suffering and death could have been avoided with higher vaccination coverage in the country.”
This story originally appeared in San Diego Union-Tribune.