In light of the highly transmissible Delta variant that has caused a spike of COVID-19 cases in unvaccinated populations across the country, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued updated indoor masks guidance for fully vaccinated Americans.
Citing newly released data that shows vaccinated people can carry higher loads of the virus than previously known, the CDC is recommending fully vaccinated people wear a mask in under-vaccinated areas and in schools to help prevent the spread of the virus.
“The Delta variant is showing every day its willingness to out-smart us and to be an opportunist in areas where we have not shown a fortified response against it,” said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky at a press briefing on Tuesday. “This week, our data shows Delta remains the predominant variant circling in the United States. Eight in 10 sequence samples contains the Delta variant.”
She continued, “In recent days, I have seen new scientific data from recent outbreak investigations showing that the Delta variant behaves uniquely differently from past strains of the virus that cause COVID-19. Information on the Delta variant from several states and other countries indicates that, in rare occasions, some vaccinated people infected with the Delta variant after vaccination may be contagious and spread the virus to others. This new science is worrisome and unfortunately, warrants an update to our recommendations.”
Dr. Walensky stressed the need for every American to be vaccinated if they’re medically able to do so to prevent severe illness, hospitalization, and death. Although the CDC director noted that vaccinated people make up a small amount of the transmission that’s occurring around the country, she said, “In areas with substantial and high transmission, CDC recommends fully vaccinated people wear a mask in public, indoor settings to help prevent the spread of the Delta variant and protect others.”
The CDC also reversed its guidance for kids going back to school in the fall. “CDC recommends everyone in K-12 schools wear a mask indoors, including teachers, staff, students, and visitors regardless of vaccination status,” said Walensky. “Children should return to full-time, in-person learning in the fall with proper prevention strategies in place.”
In closing, Walensky stressed that it’s more urgent than ever for more Americans to get vaccinated. “The highest spread of cases and severe outcomes are happening in places with low vaccination rates and among unvaccinated people,” she said. “This moment—and most importantly—the associated illness, suffering, and death, could have been avoided with higher vaccination coverage in this country.”
Appearing on MSNBC Tuesday evening, Dr. Walensky acknowledged that Americans were tired and fatigued from fighting the pandemic for over a year. But she said her job is to follow the science wherever it leads. She also said that she, too, was “masking up” more often now in light of the Delta variant.
Minnesota is one of a few states that has reached the goal set out by President Biden and the CDC to vaccinate 70% of the state’s 18-and-older population by July 4. Most of the state is listed as “moderate,” but 14 counties in the state have been identified by the CDC as having a “substantial” or “high rate” of community transmission.
Cottonwood, Dodge, Isanti, Mille Lacs, Pope, Redwood, Roseau, Scott, Swift, Traverse, and Waseca counties were identified as having “substantial” rates of community transmission, while Lake, Lake of the Woods, Wilkin counties were listed as having a “high” rates.
In light of the CDC’s updated mask guidance, Gov. Walz was asked on Tuesday about the upcoming State Fair, which is set to return next month without any public safety restrictions. Walz told reporters that he’s hopeful that the State Fair can take place as planned. He added that he and health officials are keeping an eye on the situation and will ultimately follow the science. He encouraged all Minnesotans to get vaccinated.
For info on state vaccination locations, go to VaccineConnector.mn.gov.