CDC brings back mask recommendation for vaccinated people in areas with high COVID-19 spread

A woman rides a bus while wearing a face mask
Fully vaccinated people who live in areas with substantial COVID-19 transmission should wear a mask indoors, new CDC guidance says. (alvarez/Getty)

Fully vaccinated people who live in areas with substantial COVID-19 transmission should wear masks indoors, as new data shows fully vaccinated people can spread the delta variant of the virus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its mask guidance on Tuesday to reflect the new data and increasing spread of the more transmissible delta variant of COVID-19. The new guidance comes as hospital groups and systems have pressed for healthcare workers and patients to get vaccinated.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, M.D., said that the decision to change the guidance, which previously said vaccinated people didn’t have to wear masks indoors no matter where they are, was “not taken lightly.” She added that the vaccines continue to protect the vast majority from infection.

“The vaccines continue to do an exceptional job of protecting someone from severe illness, hospitalizations and death,” Walensky told reporters during a briefing. “What is different with the delta variant is in those rare cases that we have breakthrough infections it is important for people to understand they have the potential to transmit the virus to others.”

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The agency also called for universal masking in schools regardless of vaccination status.

The new guidance comes as more and more provider groups are calling for facilities to mandate that healthcare workers get vaccinated as the delta variant causes major surges across parts of the country. Some hospital systems such as Houston Methodist and Trinity Health have unveiled mandatory vaccination policies for their workers.

Walensky shied away from calling for any vaccine mandates, saying that it is outside of the CDC’s jurisdiction.

“We will be technical advisers to the government as they make these decisions,” she said. “We are recommending that communities look to community level and look at what would get people vaccinated.”