Photo: DavidCarpio (Shutterstock)
The CDC announced today that students and teachers in K-12 schools should all wear masks, whether they are vaccinated or not. And people who are vaccinated should wear masks indoors again if they are in an area with “significant” or “high” community transmission.
Who has to wear masks again?
Among the changes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
- Once fully vaccinated, cover yourself indoors if local transmission is significant or high.
- If you are fully vaccinated and have unvaccinated or at-risk people in your home, you may want to mask yourself regardless of the level of community transmission.
- Everyone in K-12 schools, including teachers, staff, students, and visitors, should wear a mask whether or not they are vaccinated.
- People who are fully vaccinated should still get a COVID test if they know they’ve been exposed.
To check if the transmission in your area is significant or high, Use this tool from the CDC and search for your county. (Major means 50 new cases per 100,000 people per day and high means 100.) Much of the southeast and western United States fall into this category; the northeast is mostly in the “moderate” transmission area. However, given Delta’s trajectory, cases may soon increase. So keep checking the numbers in your area.
Why the change?
The changes are reflected by new data on the Delta variant. The vaccines are still largely effective against Delta and still protect against death and hospitalization, but officials note groundbreaking cases (less than 3% of COVID cases, according to previous data). Officials mentioned in a press call today that people who are fully vaccinated and infected with the Delta variant of COVID-19 carry just as high levels of viral loads as those who are not vaccinated. That means they are just as likely to be able to pass the virus on to others as a sick, unvaccinated person.
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This was not the case with the alpha variant, which was responsible for most of the US COVID cases earlier this year, nor with the original strains of the virus. CDC officials said that when they made the previous recommendations that anyone – including school children – could go maskless, they expected cases to fall and vaccination rates to rise. Thanks to Delta, cases are picking up again, and about 30% of Americans seem disinterested in ever getting a COVID vaccine.
Will we then wear masks forever?
“Masking is a temporary measure,” CDC officials said at the press conference. “What we need to do to curb the transmission is get people vaccinated.”
People who are fully vaccinated are for the most part protected from contracting the virus and from symptoms. If enough people are vaccinated in your area, the cases will be low. And when cases are low and most people are vaccinated, it is rare that you will come across someone who can infect you.
In the meantime, masks are a helpful way to reduce transmission. Yes, it’s a shame we have to put them back on once we’ve gotten used to doing without them, but this is a stopgap that can come in handy until more people are vaccinated – provided enough people are willing to get vaccinated.
Right now, children under 12 are not eligible to be vaccinated, and only 30% of teenagers. It therefore makes sense to reintroduce the mask requirement for schools. It is now up to the federal states, schools, communities and institutions to decide whether to follow and enforce the new guidelines.