US health authority says even vaccinated people should wear masks in Delta outbreak areas


America’s public health agency has changed course on some mask guidelines, recommending that even vaccinated people return to wearing masks indoors in parts of the US where the Delta variant is fuelling infection surges.

Citing new information about the variant’s ability to spread among vaccinated people, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also recommended indoor masks for all teachers, staff, students and visitors at schools nationwide, regardless of their vaccination status.

In other developments, US President Joe Biden said his administration was considering requiring all federal workers to get vaccinated.

His comments came a day after the Department of Veterans Affairs became the first federal agency to require its health care workers to be vaccinated.

Mr Biden dismissed concerns that the new guidance could invite confusion, saying the millions of Americans who remained unvaccinated were the ones who were “sowing enormous confusion.”

“The more we learn about this virus and the Delta variation, the more we have to be worried and concerned,” he said.

“And there’s only one thing we know for sure — if those other 100 million people got vaccinated, we’d be in a very different world.”

Mr Biden is considering making vaccines mandatory for all federal workers. (

AP: Carolyn Kaster


The White House asked all staff and reporters to wear masks indoors.

The latest CDC data shows the Washington area faces a substantial level of coronavirus transmission.

The CDC’s new mask policy follows recent decisions in Los Angeles and St Louis to revert to indoor mask mandates amid the spike in COVID-19 infections.

Cases rising again 

The US is averaging more than 57,000 cases a day, and 24,000 COVID-19 hospitalisations.

The guidance on masks in indoor public places applies in parts of the country with at least 50 new cases per 100,000 people in the last week.

That includes 60 per cent of US counties, officials said.

New case rates are particularly high in the south and south-west, according to a CDC tracker.

In Arkansas, Louisiana and Florida, every county has a high transmission rate.

Most new infections in the US continue to be among unvaccinated people.

A woman in a mask and disposable gloves draws a vaccine with a syringe.
Even vaccinated people are being told to mask up, which is a change from earlier advice. (

AP: Mark Lennihan


So-called breakthrough infections, which generally cause milder illness, can occur in vaccinated people.

When earlier strains of the virus predominated, infected vaccinated people were found to have low levels of virus and were deemed unlikely to spread the virus much, CDC director Rochelle Walensky said.

But with the Delta variant, the level of virus in infected vaccinated people was “indistinguishable” from the level of virus in the noses and throats of unvaccinated people, Dr Walensky added.

The data emerged over the last couple of days from over 100 samples from several states and one other country.

It is unpublished, and the CDC has not released it.

But “it is concerning enough that we feel like we have to act,” Dr Walensky said.

Vaccinated people “have the potential to spread that virus to others”, she said.

What were the rules?

For much of the pandemic, the CDC advised Americans to wear masks indoors and outdoors if they were within six feet (1.8 metres) of one another.

Then in April, as vaccination rates rose sharply, the agency eased its guidelines on the wearing of masks outdoors, saying fully vaccinated Americans no longer needed to cover their faces unless they were in a big crowd of strangers.

In May, the guidance was eased further, allowing fully vaccinated people to stop wearing masks outdoors in crowds and in most indoor settings.

The guidance still called for masks in crowded indoor settings, like buses, planes, hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters, but it cleared the way for reopening workplaces and other venues.

Subsequent CDC guidance said fully vaccinated people no longer needed to wear masks at schools either.

Passengers on a train wear masks during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The highly transmissible Delta variant is behind a rise in COVID-19 cases in the US.(

Supplied: Unsplash


Debates about mask guidance 

For months, COVID cases, deaths and hospitalisations were falling steadily, but those trends began to change at the beginning of the summer as the Delta variant began to spread widely, especially in areas with lower vaccination rates.

Some public health experts said they thought the earlier CDC decision was based on good science.

But those experts were also critical, noting that there was no call for Americans to document their vaccination status, which created an honour system.

Unvaccinated people who did not want to wear masks in the first place saw it as an opportunity to do what they wanted, they said.

“If all the unvaccinated people were responsible and wore mask indoors, we would not be seeing this surge,” former CDC disease investigator Ali Khan, who is now Dean of the University of Nebraska’s College of Public Health, said.

Lawrence Gostin, a public health law professor at Georgetown University, drew a similar conclusion.

“It was completely foreseeable that when [the CDC] made their announcement, masking would no longer be the norm, and that’s exactly what’s happened,” Mr Gostin said.

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