CDC's U-turn On Masks For Vaccinated Americans: What's the Latest SOP?

Who should wear masks and who shouldn't? Who should get tested in the US? Here's all you need to know.

3 min read
<div class="paragraphs"><p>In United States, those vaccinated against the novel coronavirus should go back to wearing masks indoors in high-risk places, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended.</p></div>

In the United States, even those vaccinated against the novel coronavirus need to now go back to wearing masks indoors in high-risk places, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended.

The CDC had only recently defended its decision taken in May that vaccinated people do not have to wear masks indoors in most circumstances, barring exceptions like public transit and hospitals.

This is a major shift in COVID-19 guidance as the country struggles to suppress the Delta Variant. The US is seeing a swell in cases, with the variant reportedly causing 90 percent of them.

What are the new rules? Who should wear masks and who shouldn't? Here's all you need to know.

Who should wear masks in the US?

Everyone wears a face mask in indoor public places, regardless of their vaccination status, in any community where there is substantial or high transmission of COVID-19.

This essentially means any place where there has been 50 new COVID cases confirmed per 100,000 residents within the past seven days.

It also recommended all students, teachers and staff at schools to wear masks regardless of whether they are vaccinated.

What was the mask wearing rule earlier?

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky told a White House briefing on 13 May:

  • Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities, large or small, without wearing a mask or physically distancing.

  • If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic. We have all longed for this moment when we can get back to some sense of normalcy.

However, over two months later, the CDC has gone back on this rule.

Who should get tested for COVID-19?

The CDC said that vaccinated people should get tested for COVID-19 not only if they develop COVID symptoms, but if they were recently in close contact with someone who had a suspected or confirmed case.

Why has the US gone back on the non-mandatory mask rule?

Citing new data that reflects that even though vaccines remain highly effective, rare breakthrough cases with the Delta variant have a greater risk of onward transmission, CDC chief Walensky informed the press.

Reuters also cited Walensky as saying that new studies show that fully vaccinated people, who do become infected, carry as much virus as unvaccinated people. This suggests they may be able to transmit the infection to others.

Are cases rising in all parts of the US?

Citing CDC data, AFP reported, that much of the southern United States is seeing high or substantial transmission. The highly vaccinated parts of Northeast America, on the other hand, are witnessing moderate rates of community transmission.

In their case, 'substantial' means 50 to 100 daily cases per 100,000 people over a seven day average; and 'high' means more than 100 daily cases per 100,000.

Further, as per Reuters:

  • 63.4% of US counties had transmission rates high enough to warrant indoor masking.

  • While, Manhattan, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and the entire state of Florida meet the transmission criteria; Chicago and Detroit do not.

What is the vaccination coverage in America?

America is 49 percent fully vaccinated, but the vaccination rate is not uniform and varies between the politically liberal and conservative parts of the country.

What happens when a vaccinated person becomes infected?

A new CDC research, according to AFP, shows that when a vaccinated person does become infected, their viral load is similar to an unvaccinated person. This comes even as Walensky stressed that so-called 'breakthrough' cases among people who are vaccinated remain rare.

"We felt it was important for people to understand that they could pass the disease on to someone else," she said.

What has US President Joe Biden said on latest guidelines?

US President Joe Biden has said that this indicates that America ought to 'do better' on vaccination. He also, according to AFP, said that a mandate for the country's federal workers was now 'under consideration'.

The Biden administration has also, according to Reuters, said that it will not lift any existing international travel curbs.

(With inputs from AFP and Reuters)

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