US health authorities said Tuesday that Americans who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 should return to wearing masks in indoor public spaces in areas where the coronavirus, especially the delta type, is spreading rapidly.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also recommended that all teachers and students in kindergarten through 12th grade wear masks in schools regardless of vaccination status. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said children should return to full-time in-person learning in the fall with appropriate prevention strategies.
The changes are a reflection of the CDC’s announcement in May that prompted millions of vaccinated Americans to shed their face coverings.
Change in infection patterns
The United States leads the world in the daily average number of new infections, accounting for one in nine cases reported worldwide each day.
The seven-day average for new cases was rising sharply and standing at 57,126, still about a quarter of the epidemic peak.
“In areas of high and high prevalence, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends fully vaccinated individuals wear a mask in closed public spaces to help prevent delta spread and protect others,” the agency said.
The CDC said 63 percent of US counties have high transmission rates that warrant mask-wearing. It’s a number that follows the rise of the highly transmissible delta variant, which now accounts for more than eight in 10 cases across the country.
In May, the agency advised that people who have been fully vaccinated do not need to wear masks outdoors and can avoid wearing them indoors in most places, said guidance that the agency said would allow life to return to normal.
Dr. David Doody, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance was driven by a change in infection patterns.
“We see this doubling in the number of cases every 10 days or so,” he said.
Watch | When can I stop wearing a mask?
The president of the American Federation of Teachers, Randy Weingarten, praised the CDC’s new mask guidance in a statement, saying it was necessary to “deal with the changing realities of virus transmission.”
She called it a “necessary precaution so that children under 12 can receive the COVID vaccine and more Americans over the age of 12.”
The new CDC recommendations are not binding and many Americans, especially in republican-leaning states, may choose not to follow them. At least eight states ban schools from requiring masks.
Resistance is likely to be among some people, said Dr. Isaac Wesviuz, a medical epidemiologist and assistant professor of public health at Cornell University.
“I think we’re going to get a negative reaction because I think people might look at it as a regression,” he said.
On Monday, the Biden administration confirmed that it would not lift any existing international travel restrictions, citing the growing number of COVID-19 cases and expecting it to continue to rise in the coming weeks.
Masks became a political issue in the United States under former President Donald Trump, who resisted the imposition of face coverings.
President Joe Biden adopted the masks and delegated them to transit centers days after taking office.