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CDC reverses course on indoor masks in some parts of US

Credit: James Gathany / CDC | Image Source

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reversing course on some masking guidelines.

Posted: Jul 27, 2021 2:46 PM
Updated: Jul 27, 2021 2:56 PM

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. 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 It is unpublished, and the CDC has not released it.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.

Vaccinated people "have the potential to spread that virus to others,” she said.

For much of the pandemic, the CDC advised Americans to wear masks outdoors if they were within 6 feet of one another.

Then in April, as vaccination rates rose sharply, the agency eased its guidelines on the wearing of masks outdoors, saying that fully vaccinated Americans no longer needed to cover their faces unless they were in a big crowd of strangers. In May, the guidance was eased further for fully vaccinated people, allowing them to stop wearing masks outdoors in crowds and in most indoor settings.

The guidance still called for wearing masks in crowded indoor settings, like buses, planes, hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters, but it cleared the way for reopening workplaces and other venues.

Subsequent CDC guidance said fully vaccinated people no longer needed to wear masks at summer camps or at schools, either.

For months COVID cases, deaths and hospitalizations were falling steadily, but those trends began to change at the beginning of the summer as the delta variant, a mutated and more transmissible version of the virus, began to spread widely, especially in areas with lower vaccination rates.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the delta variant has changed the nation’s COVID-19 outlook since the the CDC relaxed masking recommendations.

“That is their job. Their job is to look at evolving information, evolving data, an evolving historic pandemic and provide guidance to the American public,” Psaki said.

“What has not changed,” she added, “is the fact that people who are vaccinated have a huge deal of protection from serious illness, from hospitalization and from death.”

Some public health experts said they thought the earlier CDC decision was based on good science, which indicated that the risk of vaccinated people spreading the virus was relatively low and that the risk of them catching the virus and becoming extremely ill was even lower.

But those experts were also critical, noting that there was no call for Americans to document their vaccination status, which created an honor system. Unvaccinated people who did not want to wear masks in the first place saw it as an opportunity to do what they wanted, they said.

“If all the unvaccinated people were responsible and wore mask indoors, we would not be seeing this surge,” said Dr. Ali Khan, a former CDC disease investigator who now is dean of the University of Nebraska’s College of Public Health.

Lawrence Gostin, a public health law professor at Georgetown University, drew a similar conclusion.

“It was completely foreseeable that when they (the CDC) made their announcement, masking would no longer be the norm, and that’s exactly what’s happened,” Gostin said.

The CDC may be seen as “flip-flopping,” he said, because there’s been no widely recognized change in the science, he said. Furthermore, it’s not likely to change the behavior of the people who most need to wear masks.

“I don’t think you can effectively walk that back,” he said.

Ken Thigpen, a retired respiratory therapist who now works for a medical device manufacturer, is fully vaccinated and stopped wearing his mask in public after the CDC changed its guidance in May. But he started to reconsider in the last week after his job took him to hospitals in Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Florida, where he witnessed medical centers getting inundated with COVID-19 patients.

“That delta variant is intense. It is so transmissible that we have to do something to tamp it down,” he said.

“I loved it when I could call the hospitals and they said, ‘We actually closed our COVID ward today or we are down to two COVID patients,’" he recalled. "And now we are opening the wards back up, and the numbers are going nuts.”

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 514171

Reported Deaths: 10285
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34920557
DeSoto33270432
Hinds32652642
Jackson24876391
Rankin22516404
Lee16366245
Madison14932283
Jones14129247
Forrest13785260
Lauderdale12279324
Lowndes11314193
Lamar10663140
Pearl River9720244
Lafayette8855143
Hancock7839132
Washington7553169
Oktibbeha7216138
Monroe7036179
Pontotoc7003109
Warren6872178
Panola6768135
Neshoba6732210
Marshall6686142
Bolivar6451151
Union640898
Pike5933156
Alcorn5887107
Lincoln5533136
George510380
Prentiss505385
Tippah492783
Itawamba4857107
Scott478199
Adams4771125
Tate4765117
Leflore4736144
Copiah457095
Yazoo456692
Simpson4554117
Wayne443172
Covington434695
Sunflower4315106
Marion4279112
Coahoma4238109
Leake414090
Newton395782
Tishomingo384894
Grenada3777109
Stone365766
Jasper340866
Attala338790
Winston317892
Chickasaw316167
Clay312578
Clarke301295
Calhoun285949
Holmes271889
Smith269452
Yalobusha244247
Tallahatchie232053
Greene224749
Walthall221866
Lawrence219141
Perry213456
Amite209857
Webster206248
Noxubee188743
Montgomery181857
Carroll174941
Jefferson Davis173843
Tunica163339
Benton153139
Kemper145041
Choctaw136727
Claiborne134439
Humphreys132139
Franklin126029
Quitman107628
Wilkinson106139
Jefferson96934
Sharkey65321
Issaquena1957
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 845761

Reported Deaths: 16119
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1161862004
Mobile742411381
Madison53315732
Shelby38351369
Baldwin38104589
Tuscaloosa36052641
Montgomery34492781
Lee25590263
Calhoun22598518
Morgan22459406
Etowah20026518
Marshall18790316
Houston17741425
St. Clair16904358
Limestone16153219
Cullman16067303
Elmore15912294
Lauderdale14991306
Talladega14209299
DeKalb12985269
Walker12067380
Blount10729192
Autauga10526157
Jackson10170194
Coffee9425192
Colbert9341208
Dale9024192
Tallapoosa7273201
Russell708865
Chilton7042170
Escambia6956143
Covington6943195
Franklin6338108
Chambers5785142
Marion5413130
Dallas5295209
Pike5123109
Clarke484886
Lawrence4831129
Winston4780110
Geneva4643136
Bibb434594
Barbour369980
Butler3439100
Marengo342393
Monroe337466
Randolph334867
Pickens333988
Fayette330085
Henry320766
Hale318489
Cherokee318363
Crenshaw260777
Washington256952
Cleburne254560
Lamar251953
Clay251169
Macon245064
Conecuh193162
Coosa185547
Lowndes178268
Wilcox177638
Bullock152545
Perry141840
Sumter139241
Greene130245
Choctaw93228
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Columbus
Clear
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Oxford
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Starkville
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High pressure will continue to dominate our weather forecast for the next few days. This will keep our area on the dry side and on the unseasonably warm side for this time of the year. We will see most high temperatures well into the 70s over the next few afternoons.
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