FAQ | US Reverses COVID Mask Policy: Recommends Indoor Masking for All
Why has the US CDC updated it COVID masking guidelines again?
On Tuesday, 28 July, the US updated its COVID-19 guidelines, recommending all Americans wear masks even indoors in high transmission areas.
Just 2 months ago, as the COVID cases steadily dipped in the US and the graphs showed signs of welcome respite, the US health authority CDC (Centre for Disease Control and Prevention) dropped the compulsory mask mandate allowing fully vaccinated people to go maskless indoors and outdoors.
The CDC, has since had to reverse this relaxation as cases of Delta variant continue to surge in the country.
Do you have to wear masks indoors if you're fully vaccinated?
Yes, the updated guidelines recommend everyone (including those fully vaccinated against COVID) wear protective masks in indoor public places.
Moreover, the CDC also mentions that this applies to places deemed to have 'substantial or high transmission.'
The guideline is still a recommendation rather than an enforced rule.
That being said, everyone, irrespective of their vaccination status, will have to continue to wear a mask where required by laws, and local regulations.
Which areas do these guidelines specifically apply to?
The CDC said, on Tuesday, that 63.4 percent of US counties had alarmingly high transmission rates where the new policy would apply, reported Reuters.
Manhatten, Los Angeles, and San Fransisco are among the counties that meet the criteria.
The entire states of Florida, Arkansas, and Louisiana fall into this catagory as well.
Why did the US CDC reverse the relaxation on masking?
The move has been made mainly in response to the rate at which the Delta variant, which now accounts for 80 percent of COVID cases in the country, has been spreading in the US.
With the Delta variant wrecking havoc, the risk of infection, even in those fully vaccinated is much higher. Moreover, vaccinated people can be carriers and continue to spread the virus.
"the Delta variant behaves uniquely differently (compared to other versions of the virus), and vaccinated people may be contagious and spread the virus to others."Rochelle Walensky, Director of CDC, as quoted by Bussiness Insider
Why was the relaxation made in the first place?
As cases of COVID in the US started seeing a steady decline and people itching to get back to 'normal life', the CDC, back in May, took the call to relax the compulsory mask mandate for fully vaccinated people.
The US health authorities had hopes the relationation in the policy would serve as an incentive for people to get vaccinated.
To those fully vaccinated the CDC had said,
“You can resume activities without wearing a mask or staying 6 feet apart.”the US CDC to fully vaccinated Americans in May
How are Americans responding to the change in guidelines?
When the strict masking policy was relaxed back in May, the CDC received flack for jumping the gun and prematurely letting their guards down at the first sign of cases beginning to dip in the US.
The policy was, however, welcomed by many Americans, trying to grasp at some semblance of normalcy.
The US President Joe Biden himself backed the reccomendation, calling it a 'milestone' in the battle against COVID.
This time around as well, while many experts are for the new guidelines, it has been met with backlash from officials of some states.
"Arizona does not allow mask mandates ...We’ve passed all of this into law, and it will not change," Doug Ducey, Arizona's Governer was quotes by Reuters.
Can vaccines protect against the Delta variant?
Real world evidence shows cases of breakthrough infections have increased in the past few months with fully vaccinated people getting infected as well.
Data from several studies have found all the COVD vaccines to be less effective against the Delta variant in preventing infection.
That being said, even if they are infected, those fully vaccinated are unlikely to develop severe illness or need hospitalisation.
What is the status of vaccination in the US?
According to the CDC, currently only 49.2 percent of Americans are fully vaccinated, and the slow down in vaccine uptake, according to many experts, is a major reason for the surge in cases.
The reversal in mask policy "could have been avoided with higher vaccination coverage," Rochelle Walensky, Director of CDC told Bussiness Insider.
(Written with inputs from Reuters and Bussiness Insider.)
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