The CDC announced updated mask guidelines on Tuesday, now recommending that even fully vaccinated people wear masks indoors in public if they’re in areas with high COVID case rates. They’re also walking back their previous recommendations about masks in schools, now saying that all K-12 students and teachers should be masked indoors, regardless of vaccination status.
They're recommending that people in areas with “high and substantial” COVID transmission should resume wearing masks when indoors in public places, which makes up about two thirds of the U.S. right now. That number may continue to rise if rates continue at their current pace.
This is all fueled by the Delta variant, which is twice as infectious as the original virus and can spread in a matter of seconds. Over 83% of cases in the country are the Delta variant as of last week, and likely to keep climbing.
These changes were made after public health officials looked at case rates, data on transmission of the Delta variant, and breakthrough cases that showed that even fully vaccinated people could still carry large amounts of virus and transmit the Delta variant to others.
Vaccines are still very effective at preventing serious disease and death, but people who do get breakthrough infections can transmit it to others - and might not have any symptoms, increasing the risk that they go out and infect others.
The CDC did not indicate any changes in recommendations about capacity limits, indoor dining, or mandated vaccination, though they’re leaving much of that up to states and local authorities to decide. We expect many states and counties to use these guidelines to implement their own mask mandates in the coming days.