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Masking up again: CDC Director explains decision behind new guidelines for some people fully vaccinated

These new guidelines come as new academic school years across the country are set to begin again.

WASHINGTON — The Centers for Disease Control is reversing course after months of progress in the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Tuesday, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky officially announced new recommendations to combat the spreading Delta variant:

  • Fully vaccinated people in substantial or high transmission rates should wear masks in public indoor settings
  • Those in K-12 education (including teachers, staff, students, and visitors) should wear masks indoors regardless of vaccination status
  • Community leaders encourage vaccination and universal vaccinations

These new recommendations come from growing data that show Delta's growing presence in the United States.

“Information from states and counties show that on rare condition, some vaccinated people affected with the delta variant after vaccination may be contagious and spread the virus to others," Dr. Walensky said in a Tuesday afternoon teleconference.

LINK: See CDC's county-by-county COVID transmission tracker

A high transmission area is defined by the CDC as 100 or more cases out of every 100,000 people -- or a percent positivity rate higher than 10 percent -- in the last seven days. A substantial level of transmission means between 50-99 cases out of 100,000 people or a percent positivity rate between eight and nine percent.

Credit: CDC
This image from July 27 shows CDC's COVID-19 community transmission tracker, with orange indicating counties with substantial transmission and red indicating high transmission.

"This variant is creeping up," said Chesapeake Health Director Dr. Nancy Welch. She said that COVID variants used to make up .01 percent of total positive cases in Chesapeake, versus roughly 15 percent now. 

"That's because this coronavirus, historically just loves to change, it just changes its form," said Welch.

Welch also emphasized that vaccination is the primary solution: "People just have a drive to get back to normal and reality is that the vaccination will get us there."

According to Dr. Walensky, eight out of every 10 sequenced COVID cases detect the Delta variant, making it the most prevalent strain of coronavirus in the country.

“Delta is showing every day its willingness to outsmart us, and be an opportunist in areas where we have not shown a fortified response."

These guidelines come as a reversal from May, when the CDC announced fully vaccinated people could go without masks in most public outdoor and indoor settings, while recommended mask wearing for unvaccinated individuals still applied.

“This is different now in the Delta variant, it’s actually possible if you’re a rare breakthrough infection that you can transmit further, which is the reason for the change," said Walensky.