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IDSA Supports New CDC Guidance on Mask Wearing as Delta Variant Spreads

The Infectious Diseases Society of America supports guidance announced today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommending mask wearing in indoor public settings for all individuals in communities with substantial or high COVID-19 transmission rates, regardless of COVID-19 vaccination status. To stay ahead of the spread of the highly transmissible Delta variant, IDSA also urges that in communities with moderate transmission rates, all individuals, even those who are vaccinated, wear masks in indoor public places.

IDSA also supports CDC’s guidance recommending universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status, until vaccines are authorized and widely available to all children and vaccination rates are sufficient to control transmission.

Unfortunately, vaccination rates in most U.S. communities remain far too low to minimize COVID-19 transmission, and it is impossible in public settings to know who is vaccinated and who is not. Vaccination coverage remains below 40% in over half of the counties in the country, and 63% of U.S. counties have high or substantial virus spread, according to CDC. As a result, successful community mitigation measures should be based on local transmission rates, not the vaccine status of individuals.

While COVID-19 vaccines currently in use in the U.S. are highly effective against the Delta variant in preventing serious illness and  death, they do not eliminate the possibility that vaccinated people might spread the virus to others.  

The overwhelming majority of current COVID-19 cases are occurring in unvaccinated individuals, and significantly increasing vaccination rates are urgently needed to stop the spread of COVID-19 and save lives. Until then, mask wearing will help reduce infections, prevent serious illnesses and death, limit strain on local hospitals and stave off the development of even more troubling variants.

State and local policies requiring mask wearing increased adherence to these measures earlier in the pandemic and will likely need to be reinstated. It is imperative that state and local health officials are empowered to determine the mitigation measures necessary in their communities to end this pandemic.

-Barbara D. Alexander, MD, MHS, FIDSA

President, Infectious Diseases Society of America   

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