With the Delta variant marching through the U.S., fanning the flames of a pandemic resurgence, federal health officials are again recommending more widespread use of face masks — even among those fully vaccinated.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced new masking recommendations Tuesday, representing a change from May guidance that said fully vaccinated individuals don't have to wear a mask in most situations.
Under the new recommendations, the CDC says everybody should wear a mask while in public indoor settings if they are in an area with "substantial or high transmission." In addition, the guidelines say students, teachers, staff and visitors should wear a mask while in a K-12 school, regardless of vaccination status.
Those who are immunocompromised or at risk of severe disease; who live with someone else who falls into those categories; or who live with someone who is unvaccinated "might choose to mask regardless of the level of transmission," the CDC says.
The CDC never stopped recommending face masks indoors in public for unvaccinated individuals. But its May announcement said fully vaccinated individuals don't need to wear masks in most situations, coupled with the quick lifting of pandemic-related policies on state, county and city levels, resulted in a prompt shedding of the face coverings.
The revised CDC recommendations are being driven by the increasing prevalence of the Delta variant, which appears to be more transmissible than earlier strains of COVID. Although fully vaccinated individuals are extremely unlikely to get seriously ill from it, the vaccine may be less effective at fully preventing asymptomatic infection caused by the Delta variant.
"Vaccinated people can get breakthrough infections of Delta variant and may be contagious," the CDC said, though noted vaccinated individuals are responsible for "a very small amount" of COVID transmissions.
Gov. Tim Walz last week reiterated his strong encouragement for people to get the COVID-19 vaccine, and said the state will follow CDC guidance.
Here in Minnesota, the Delta variant has accounted for about 75% of new COVID cases since the start of July. State health officials said the "vast majority" of infections, hospitalizations and deaths are happening among the unvaccinated.
Minnesota's COVID figures are still well below the worrying winter peak and early spring 2021 wave, but numbers are trending upward again. Hospitalizations and infections are up over the past few weeks, and Minnesota's test positivity rate over the past seven days is 3.02% — well above just a couple weeks ago when it was below 1%.