COVID-19: What is changing about the mask rules in the USA

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In the last week, the US disease protection agency CDC took a noteworthy step: After months of corona easing recommended Officials told vaccinated people to wear masks again indoors in public buildings in areas with high COVID-19 rates. In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised that children from preschool age to 12th grade should still be allowed to go to school but should wear masks there.

With the new guideline, the health authority is responding to increasing numbers of infections with the highly contagious Delta variant, which was first detected in India at the beginning of this year. The new policy may seem like a step backwards to US citizens, but CDC director Rochelle Walensky said the decisions were not made lightly.

More from MIT Technology Review

More from MIT Technology Review

More from MIT Technology Review

“Our guidelines and recommendations will follow science,” Walensky said during a press conference. “The Delta variant shows every day that it can trick us. The variant takes advantage of areas in which we do not react strongly enough. ”According to the Johns Hopkins University Delta was responsible for only two percent of the cases sequenced in the United States in May. In the meantime, however, 82 percent of the samples show the new variant.

According to Walensky, the new rule is designed to protect the most vulnerable people in society who live in areas with high transmission rates, but also vulnerable family members such as children and people with existing health problems. These can be cancer patients or people with a weakened immune system. Sometimes the effects are less pronounced on them, even if they are vaccinated. It is not uncommon for them to be unable to be vaccinated for medical reasons.

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It is important for the USA to bring the spread under control quickly, according to Walensky, since later virus variants could bypass the effectiveness of the vaccine in such a way that it no longer prevents serious disease courses and deaths. This does not necessarily make the change in guidelines more acceptable to the public, who live in the USA with more relaxed rules than in Germany, for example. “Unfortunately, a lot of people will see this as back and forth, especially if they were criticized by the authorities,” says infection researcher Ajay Sethi of the University of Wisconsin.

More than 63 percent of the US is currently experiencing the “significant transmission rates” mentioned by the CDC, so the new guideline would apply to these areas. The “Covid Data Tracker“the CDC tracking infections in the counties.

For anyone not fully vaccinated, this may not be a big change depending on where you live. Eight states, including California, New York, and Nevada, are already requiring unvaccinated people to wear masks. Only the vaccinated people now have to put the mouth and nose protection back on.

The CDC believe that unvaccinated people are driving the spread. In addition, in some cases people who have been vaccinated also get sick and can pass the infection on, although the course of the disease is probably less severe. There should be the first data sets, according to which the viral load at Delta is not sufficiently reduced by vaccination.

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At the start of the pandemic, one person with COVID-19 infected an average of 2.5 others. In the case of the delta variant, however, an infection produces an average of six more. “This means that it doesn’t take much time – seconds instead of minutes – for the virus to get from one person to another,” says infection researcher Sethi.

Sethi believes the U.S. public is still clinging to the fact that the pandemic appears to be over. But that will not be the case as long as health policy is ignored. CDC director Walensky emphasized that the vaccination rate in the US must improve quickly. “This development and, above all, the diseases, suffering and deaths associated with it could have been avoided with a higher vaccination rate.”

Nor did she want to promise that the mask guidelines would not change again: “We will continue to closely monitor science and update the rules should the state of research change again.”


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