• CDC Recommends Masks in Schools, COVID-19 Hot Spots

    Delta Variant, Fewer Vaccinations Cause Changes in Guidance

    July 29, 2021, 2:09 p.m. News Staff — In response to increased circulation of the highly transmissible delta variant of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, the CDC on Tuesday issued updated guidance that, among other things, strongly recommends that all individuals attending or visiting schools from kindergarten through 12th grade wear a mask regardless of their vaccination status.

    person in school wearing mask

    The updated guidance also recommends that individuals resume wearing masks in public indoor locations that have high or substantial transmission rates of COVID-19, including individuals who have been fully vaccinated against the disease. According to the CDC, 16 states currently are experiencing high levels of community transmission and 14 are experiencing substantial transmission.

    The new guidance is in response to data that suggest fully vaccinated individuals are able to transmit the delta variant to those who are immunocompromised or not vaccinated, including children under 12 years of age. The CDC says infections have been recorded “in only a small proportion of people who are fully vaccinated.”

    In addition, the guidance recommends that fully vaccinated individuals who have been exposed to a person with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 be tested three to five days after exposure, and that fully vaccinated people may choose to wear a mask regardless of the level of COVID-19 transmission under certain circumstances.

    “The American Academy of Family Physicians supports the CDC’s updated guidance for COVID-19 prevention in the U.S., including universal masking in K-12 schools,” AAFP President Ada Stewart, M.D., of Columbia, S.C., said in a statement. “Vaccination is currently the leading public health strategy to end the COVID-19 pandemic. To that end, the AAFP urges everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated.”

    Stewart added that because many children are not yet eligible for COVID-19 vaccination, and because some adults are unable to get vaccinated, it is important for individuals and businesses to follow the CDC's guidance.

    “Every ounce of prevention helps move us closer to the end of this pandemic,” Stewart said.

    Along with the updated guidance, the CDC published a science brief, "COVID-19 Vaccines and Vaccination,” that provides additional details from recent studies on the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines currently authorized for use against SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. All authorized vaccines have been shown to be effective against the variants in preventing severe disease, hospitalizations and death.

    Many Factors Behind New Guidance

    The updated guidance and science brief come at a time when the delta variant has contributed to a rapid increase in the number of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the United States, particularly in parts of the country that have low vaccination rates.

    The delta variant was initially identified in India in December 2020 and first detected in the United States in March 2021. According to the CDC, it has become the dominant variant in the United States, making up more than 80% of recent cases in the country.

    The guidance and science brief also appear at a time when school districts and universities across the country have started to announce plans for the return of students to more traditional, in-person learning settings for this fall, and as many employers have implemented plans to have workers return to the office.

    It should also be noted that the number of COVID-19 vaccines administered in the United States has decreased sharply over the last few months. According to the CDC’s COVID Data Tracker, during the first three weeks of April 2021 an average of 3.09 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine were administered per day. In comparison, less than 454,000 doses were administered per day during the first three weeks of July 2021.

    In reviewing these data, the CDC has shifted guidance to again recommend wearing masks in public indoor settings to help prevent spread of the delta variant and potentially other new variants. Vaccinations remain the most effective strategy to control the pandemic, but in the short term, additional strategies are needed to minimize preventable morbidity and mortality.

    How the Academy Is Helping

    The AAFP remains committed to providing members with the latest news and information on COVID-19, including updates on the status of vaccines, clinical resources that help FPs provide optimal patient care, and details on the Academy’s advocacy efforts in support of the specialty.

    Make sure to bookmark the Academy’s COVID-19 webpage for the latest updates.