New guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control call for masking indoors when in public, even for fully vaccinated people, in regions where the delta variant of the COVID-19 virus is spreading rapidly. Arkansas, that’s us.
The change represents a big shift from the CDC’s previous guidelines that people who are fully vaccinated could largely return to life as usual.
While CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said we are trapped in what’s still largely a “pandemic of the unvaccinated,” the delta variant of the virus behaves differently and requires a different approach.
The delta variant is showing every day its ability to outsmart us and infiltrate areas where our defenses are down, Walensky said. New data shows that while vaccinated people are roughly seven times less likely to be infected and 20 times less likely to be hospitalized with severe infection, they are still potential vectors for transmission, she said.
“This new science is worrisome and unfortunately warrants an update to our recommendations,” Walensky said on a press call Tuesday.
The CDC also updated its recommendations for schools, calling on all teachers, students, staff and visitors to wear masks, regardless of their vaccination status. Of course, in Arkansas, anti-science lawmakers have made it illegal for schools to keep their students safe by requiring masks, and lip service by Governor Hutchinson about changing that has yet to produce results.
Nationally, only about 30% of children age 12-17 are vaccinated, but in Arkansas our rate is about 15%.
Masking, even for people who are fully vaccinated, will help protect children under 12 and not eligible for the vaccine and people who are immunocompromised and therefore cannot get the vaccine. Concern for these groups is part of the reason the CDC changed its recommendations today, Walensky said.
“This is not a decision the CDC has made lightly,” she said, acknowledging that people are tired of restrictions and struggling with mental health challenges that come with continual disruptions of normal life. She acknowledged the new guidelines may be especially frustrating for people who got their vaccines in hopes of returning to normalcy. But with health systems in Arkansas and other hotbeds of the virus being overrun with people suffering from preventable illness, extraordinary measures are needed.