What you need to know about the CDC’s new mask guidance for the vaccinated

What you need to know about the CDC’s new mask guidance for the vaccinated

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has announced new guidance that fully vaccinated people should wear masks indoors if they are in a region where there’s substantial transmission.

“The guidance is designed primarily to protect unvaccinated people and those with compromised immune systems, who may not respond ideally to the vaccines,” said Dr. Robert Citronberg, executive medical director of infectious disease and prevention for Advocate Aurora Health.

He said what is behind the change is new information that suggests the viral load, meaning the amount of virus in the respiratory tracts of people with the new Delta infection, is higher than previously thought, even in vaccinated persons. That can translate to contagiousness.

“The higher the viral load, the more contagious you are, so the masking guidance was adjusted to reflect this. The delta strain appears to be much more contagious than the original strain of the virus.” said Dr. Citronberg.

Dr. Citronberg said while there is some evidence that even fully vaccinated people may be contagious, the good news is that even when fully vaccinated people are infected, they are still very unlikely to get seriously ill, require hospitalization or die.

While masking helps prevent transmission, Dr. Citronberg said a more efficient strategy to prevent transmission to the unvaccinated is to get them vaccinated. He said the CDC suggesting mask wearing indoors in some areas again may be taking away an incentive for those who have been or get vaccinated.

The new guidance may also be confusing for vaccinated people to know where they should be masking indoors, Dr. Citronberg cautioned. He hopes and expects the CDC will issue some clarification in the next few days to make the guidance easier to understand.

The CDC is also recommending universal indoor masking at K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status.

“It’s really the belt and suspenders approach,” said Dr. Citronberg, “The top priority is to do everything possible to ensure in-person learning. I don’t have any objection to the guidance because in-person learning is so important. What they’re basically trying to do is take out all the variables that might jeopardize in-person learning, so I think it’s a good strategy.”

This new guidance from the CDC comes right as Lollapalooza is set to kick off. Thousands of people will gather at the four day music festival at Grant Park in Chicago.

“The good news is, it’s an outdoor event. We know that transmission of this disease is much less likely in outdoor settings compared to indoor settings. The problem with Lollapalooza is that there are 100,000 people standing shoulder to shoulder each day, in very close proximity, so there’s probably a higher risk of transmission,” said Dr. Citronberg.

Dr. Citronberg said if a person is not vaccinated, they should consider not going to the music festival. If a person who is unvaccinated does decide to go, Dr. Citronberg said they should wear a N95 or KN95 mask to provide maximum protection.

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Brittany Lewis
Brittany Lewis

Brittany Lewis is a media relations coordinator at Advocate Aurora Health. She previously worked as a reporter at TV stations around the Midwest, including Milwaukee. She studied at DePaul University where she majored in Journalism and Public Relations. Brittany enjoys traveling, hanging out by Lake Michigan, trying new restaurants and spending time with friends and family.