On Tuesday afternoon, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced changes to its health guidelines for fully vaccinated people. In an effort to slow the spread of the Delta variant and maximize protection against COVID-19, the updated guidance now recommends that vaccinated individuals wear a mask indoors in public if they are in an area of substantial or high transmission.
How can you find out where your area ranks in terms of community transmission? The CDC offers an interactive map that allows users to select their state and county or metro area to find out. Currently, more than 63 percent of U.S. counties are ranked "high" or "substantial" for community transmission.
It's worth pausing here to note that the CDC's new guidelines are recommendations and not requirements, though some municipalities could reactivate mask mandates (it's already happening in L.A. County).
Why now? The CDC points out that although infections happen in only a small portion of those who are fully vaccinated, preliminary research suggests that "fully vaccinated people who do become infected with the Delta variant can spread the virus to others."
The guidance goes on to say that "fully vaccinated people might choose to wear a mask regardless of the level of transmission, particularly if they are immunocompromised or at increased risk for severe disease from COVID-19, or if they have someone in their household who is immunocompromised, at increased risk of severe disease or not fully vaccinated."
CDC officials also recommended universal indoor masking for teachers, staff, students and visitors of schools— regardless of vaccination status.
"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," CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said on Tuesday. "This new science is worrisome and unfortunately warrants an update to our recommendations. This is not a decision that we or CDC has made lightly."
In the announcement, officials highlighted the correlation between areas seeing the highest spread of COVID-19 and low vaccination rates. They reiterated the importance of getting vaccinated to prevent death, severe illness and hospitalization.
Have unanswered questions about the CDC's new public health guidance? Here's the full rundown of official recommendations for fully vaccinated people.