CDC Update: Even Vaccinated People Should Mask Up Indoors; Masks Recommended For Schools

By Nicholas Gerbis, Rocio Hernandez
Published: Tuesday, July 27, 2021 - 4:37pm
Updated: Wednesday, July 28, 2021 - 7:49am

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mask sign
Sky Schaudt/KJZZ
A sign on a north Glendale restaurant in August 2020.

New data on the delta variant has prompted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to recommend that even fully vaccinated people wear masks in public indoor settings in areas with substantial or high coronavirus transmission.

That includes all of Arizona except Yuma and Cochise counties, which have moderate transmission.

People vaccinated against COVID-19 rarely have breakthrough infections, and nearly all new cases and hospitalizations occur among unvaccinated people.

But in those rare cases, data suggest that vaccinated people might be equally likely as unvaccinated people to spread the delta variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

"Unlike the alpha variant that we had back in May — where we didn't believe that if you were vaccinated, you could transmit further — this is different," said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky.

Walensky stressed that vaccinations are still the key to stopping delta and preventing worse variants from arising.

"This moment — and, most importantly, the associated illness, suffering and deaths — could have been avoided with higher vaccination coverage in this country," she said.

For now, vaccines remain effective at reducing the spread and severity of COVID-19.

"We continue to estimate that the risk of a breakthrough infection with symptoms upon exposure to the Delta variant is reduced by sevenfold. The reduction is 20-fold for hospitalizations and deaths," said Walensky.

That may cease to be the case if the coronavirus is left to circulate, mutate and eventually produce a strain that resists current vaccines.

Walensky added that vaccinated people in areas of lower community spread might also want to mask up to protect immunocompromised or unvaccinated people.

State health director Dr. Cara Christ says the department's guidelines to the 13 affected counties will echo the CDC's.

Dr. Cara Christ
Rocio Hernandez/KJZZ
Dr. Cara Christ, Arizona Department of Health Services director, at a press conference on March 23, 2021.

"Everyone, whether you're fully vaccinated or not fully vaccinated, should wear a mask whenever you are indoors or around others that you do not live with," she said.

Given the update from CDC, Maricopa County Department of Public Health is reviewing all details from the CDC’s updated recommendations in order to determine how to move forward locally.

The CDC is also recommending all teachers, staff, students at K-12 schools wear masks while indoors regardless of vaccination status. 

This is a departure from guidance earlier this month which only recommended masks for unvaccinated individuals. This change is due to growing concerns over rising COVID cases, the delta variant and lower than expected vaccination numbers, CDC Director Walensky said, adding that only 30% of children ages 12 through 17 are fully vaccinated. Children under 12 are currently not eligible to receive a COVID vaccine. 

“We are recommending that everybody wear masks right now,” Walensky said. 

The CDC announcement comes as some Arizona students have started their new school year, and more are set to return to classes soon. 

But the Arizona Legislature has passed a policy that prevents public schools from mandating masks. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman is calling on Gov. Ducey to let schools make their own masking decisions.

But the state won’t allow mask mandates, Ducey said in a statement. 

But Christ said parents should encourage their students to wear masks at schools. 

“We know that the delta variant is circulating in our communities and it's really important to do everything that we can to stop the spread of COVID-19,” Christ said. 

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