CDC facing questions over updating mask guidance as infections surge, breakthrough cases increase

Shopping masks
Posted at 7:18 PM, Jul 23, 2021

The number of people with coronavirus is surging again across the country. Just three states - Missouri, Texas, and Florida - account for 40% of new COVID-19 cases in this country right now.

"The delta virus is much more infectious. Its viral load is thousands of times higher than our previous variants. It's going to make even the average healthy person sick now," said Dr. Catherine O'Neal of Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. 

The delta variant of the coronavirus is now more than 83% of all COVID-19 infections in this country. The three vaccines with emergency use authorization protect people at a high rate against serious illness or death from the delta variant.

"We do know that in our ICUs, we are seeing younger people intubated who are very sick or who are on the floors and are very sick. That should be a gigantic wake-up call," said Jeanne Marrazzo, director of the Division of Infectious Diseases, at the University of Alabama at Birmingham  

However, the vaccines are not 100% effective and as community spread increases, so do the number of vaccinated Americans who test positive and transmit the virus to others.

Even the White House has seen new breakthrough cases.

Now the Biden administration is talking with the CDC about whether masking guidelines should be updated.  

"We've never said that battle is over, it's still ongoing. It would more concerning -- or should be more concerning -- to you and the American people if we were not having those conversations," White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday. 

CDC guidance currently says vaccinated Americans can resume normal activities without wearing a mask or social distancing.  

The problem though is, without mask mandates, unvaccinated Americans are also dropping their masks. Health officials fear the honor system is failing in many places.  

"We are always looking at the data as the data come in. Our guidance has been clear since, since we put it out several months ago," CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Thursday. 

The CDC says its guidance remains unchanged, but some vaccinated health experts say they are keeping their masks on.

"I have not really taken my mask off. I go outside and walk — I still have my mask. I certainly, when I go into the post office or the grocery store or the pharmacy, or any other place, I keep my mask on. It's added protection," Dr. Zeke Emanuel told CNN.

Jerome Adams, who was the U.S. Surgeon General under former President Donald Trump, wrote an opinion piece in the Washington Post this week that called for the CDC to change their guidance.

"The agency urgently needs to revise its guidance on masking to combat the rapid growth in COVID-19 infections driven by the delta variant," he wrote.

"Without a mechanism to determine who is vaccinated and who is not, businesses and others have been helpless to determine which people were following the guidance — that is, vaccinated and safely unmasked — and which people were simply taking the opportunity to eschew a highly politicized (and widely loathed) public health intervention," Adams continued.

Kellan Howell contributed to this report.