Updated CDC Mask Guidance: Too Little Too Late

The CDC’s partial-reversal on mask-wearing is long overdue, but the damage is done

Tara Haelle
Elemental
Published in
9 min readJul 28, 2021

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Photo: Raychel Espiritu/Unsplash

After weeks of pressure from public health experts and mounting evidence of the risk that vaccinated people can transmit Delta variant Covid-19 infections, the CDC finally reversed course on their mask guidance. Just days after doubling down on the agency’s worst Covid-related recommendation since Biden took office, CDC director Rochelle Walensky backtracked Tuesday and said the CDC recommends the following people wear masks indoors even if they’re fully vaccinated:

  • Those living in a county with rates of substantial or high Covid-19 transmission, which is at least 50 cases per 100,000 people over the previous week. (You can check your county’s rate here.)
  • Those who are immunocompromised or have a greater risk for severe disease.
  • Those who live with someone who is immunocompromised, at high risk for severe disease, or unvaccinated, such as children under 12.
  • All teachers, staff, students, and visitors to schools, whether they are vaccinated or not, in line with recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

The CDC also recommended that fully vaccinated people who know they’ve been exposed to someone with suspected or confirmed Covid-19 should be tested within three to five days after the exposure, and they should wear a mask indoors in public for at least two weeks or until they have a negative result. That recommendation is a reversal of previous guidance stating that vaccinated people with known exposures did not need to get tested or quarantine.

It’s about time… but too little too late

So, great. The CDC has finally done what nearly every trusted infectious disease epidemiologist and expert has wanted since the agency first disastrously announced May 13 that fully vaccinated people did not need to wear a mask anywhere anytime.

Plenty of experts disagreed with the decision at the time, or pointed out the naivete of an honor system for identifying yourself as vaccinated or not. (“You’re gonna be depending on people being honest enough to say whether they are…

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Tara Haelle
Elemental

Tara Haelle is a science journalist, public speaker, and author of Vaccination Investigation and The Informed Parent. Follow her at @tarahaelle.