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What to Know about Latest CDC Masking Update

CDC guidance aims to limit COVID-19 community spread, protect health system capacity

July 28, 2021

Pennsylvania county map showing spread of Delta variantWith the Delta variant leading to a national surge in COVID-19 cases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) this week updated its guidance outlining when you need to wear a mask.

The agency now recommends that fully vaccinated people wear masks in public indoor settings in areas of “substantial or high transmission.” The CDC continues to recommend all unvaccinated people wear masks in public indoor settings.

“The Delta variant is more than two times as transmissible as the original strains circulating at the start of the pandemic and is causing large, rapid increases in infections, which could compromise the capacity of some local and regional health care systems to provide medical care for the communities they serve,” the new guidance notes.

The agency outlined five important considerations to assess the spread of COVID-19 in your community and the local public health response:

  1. Current COVID-19 community transmission (new cases and positivity rates from testing)
  2. Health system capacity (available staffed inpatient and intensive care unit beds)
  3. COVID-19 vaccine coverage
  4. Capacity for early detection of COVID-19 cases, particularly in schools and colleges, health care settings, prisons, and among the homeless and workers in high-density work sites
  5. The population at increased risk for severe outcomes from COVID-19

To help limit the spread of the virus and protect patients, masks remain required inside health care facilities.

The CDC notes that fully vaccinated individuals may consider wearing a mask inside if they or someone in their household is immunocompromised or is at increased risk from COVID-19—or if someone in their household is unvaccinated.

The agency continues to emphasize the need to accelerate efforts to reach areas with low vaccination rates, focusing on community programs that build confidence in the vaccine and ensure equitable access.

As of July 23, nearly 49 percent of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated. About 63 percent of reporting U.S. counties report vaccination coverage below 40 percent, and only 14 percent of counties reported vaccine coverage above 50 percent, the CDC said.

About 63 percent of Pennsylvanians 18 and older are fully vaccinated. County-level COVID-19 vaccine data is available online.

“Until vaccination coverage is high and community transmission is low, public health practitioners, as well as schools, businesses, and institutions (organizations) need to regularly assess the need for prevention strategies to avoid stressing health care capacity and imperiling adequate care for both COVID-19 and other non–COVID-19 conditions,” the new CDC recommendations said.

HAP urges everyone eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine to make an appointment. The vaccines are safe, free, and provide outstanding protection against COVID-19 and its variants. Do not hesitate to contact your health care provider with any questions you may have.

For more information about the latest CDC guidance, contact Mary Catanzaro or Clare Edelmayer, HAP’s project managers, infection prevention.