CDC calls for masks in schools, hard-hit areas, even if vaccinated


“I know it’s difficult”

Reacting to the news, Colleen Kraft, MD, said, “One of the things that we’re learning is that if we’re going to have low vaccine uptake or we have a number of people that can’t be vaccinated yet, such as children, that we really need to go back to stopping transmission, which involves mask wearing.”

“I know that it’s very difficult and people feel like we’re sliding backward,” Dr. Kraft said during a media briefing sponsored by Emory University held shortly after the CDC announcement.

She added that the CDC updated guidance seems appropriate. “I don’t think any of us really want to be in this position or want to go back to masking but…we’re finding ourselves in the same place we were a year ago, in July 2020.

“In general we just don’t want anybody to be infected even if there’s a small chance for you to be infected and there’s a small chance for you to transmit it,” said Dr. Kraft, who’s an assistant professor in the department of pathology and associate professor in the department of medicine, division of infectious diseases at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta.

Breakthrough transmissions

“The good news is you’re still unlikely to get critically ill if you’re vaccinated. But what has changed with the [D]elta variant is instead of being 90% plus protected from getting the virus at all, you’re probably more in the 70% to 80% range,” James T. McDeavitt, MD, told this news organization.

“So we’re seeing breakthrough infections,” said Dr. McDeavitt, executive vice president and dean of clinical affairs at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. “We are starting to see [such people] are potentially infectious.” Even if a vaccinated person is individually much less likely to experience serious COVID-19 outcomes, “they can spread it to someone else who spreads it to someone else who is more vulnerable. It puts the more at-risk populations at further risk.”

It breaks down to individual and public health concerns. “I am fully vaccinated. I am very confident I am not going to end up in a hospital,” he said. “Now if I were unvaccinated, with the prevalence of the virus around the country, I’m probably in more danger than I’ve ever been in the course of the pandemic. The unvaccinated are really at risk right now.”

IDSA and AMA support mask change

The Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) has released a statement supporting the new CDC recommendations. “To stay ahead of the spread of the highly transmissible Delta variant, IDSA also urges that in communities with moderate transmission rates, all individuals, even those who are vaccinated, wear masks in indoor public places,” stated IDSA President Barbara D. Alexander, MD, MHS.

“IDSA also supports CDC’s guidance recommending universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status, until vaccines are authorized and widely available to all children and vaccination rates are sufficient to control transmission.”

“Mask wearing will help reduce infections, prevent serious illnesses and death, limit strain on local hospitals and stave off the development of even more troubling variants,” she added.

The American Medical Association (AMA) also released a statement supporting the CDC’s policy changes.

“According to the CDC, emerging data indicates that vaccinated individuals infected with the Delta variant have similar viral loads as those who are unvaccinated and are capable of transmission,” AMA President Gerald E. Harmon, MD said in the statement.

“However, the science remains clear, the authorized vaccines remain safe and effective in preventing severe complications from COVID-19, including hospitalization and death,” he stated. “We strongly support the updated recommendations, which call for universal masking in areas of high or substantial COVID-19 transmission and in K-12 schools, to help reduce transmission of the virus. Wearing a mask is a small but important protective measure that can help us all stay safer.”

“The highest spread of cases and [most] severe outcomes are happening in places with low vaccination rates and among unvaccinated people,” Dr. Walensky said. “With the [D]elta variant, vaccinating more Americans now is more urgent than ever.”

“This moment, and the associated suffering, illness, and death, could have been avoided with higher vaccination coverage in this country,” she said.

A version of this article first appeared on Medscape.com.


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