CDC: Vaccinated people should wear masks again - with a big exception

In a new media briefing today, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave its latest update on the COVID-19 pandemic, including the current state of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in the United States, the vaccination program, and the ways in which the two intersect. As expected, the update also includes the CDC's latest information about its face mask guidance.

Pandemic of the unvaccinated

Rumors have circulated over the past couple of weeks that the CDC was holding internal talks about potentially revising its face mask guidance for vaccinated individuals. The rumors included claims that the CDC may revert back to guidance that vaccinated individuals wear face masks while indoors.

Insiders had claimed that the CDC was exploring the potential benefits and ramifications of this, including slowing the spread of the Delta variant, but at the potential cost of a psychological blow to the public. The CDC removed its indoor face mask guidance for fully vaccinated adults at the start of summer, marking what for many people has been a return to normal life.

Despite its continued availability, demand for the COVID-19 vaccine has stalled in the US, leading to an uptick in cases that almost entirely impact those who aren't vaccinated. Kids under the age of 12 still aren't able to get the vaccine at this time, as well, increasing concerns about the spread of the virus among both the young and unvaccinated that could lead to future problematic mutations.

Many had criticized the CDC's early-summer face mask guidance as premature, not because the vaccine doesn't work, but instead because it is dependent on the honor system. Unvaccinated individuals, many of whom have been opposed to wearing face masks, are able to resume normal life sans masks with no way to verify whether they are vaccinated.

Latest CDC guidance

During its media briefing on July 27, the CDC said that it will once again recommend that fully vaccinated individuals wear face masks when indoors to help curb the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, but there's one big difference this time around: the recommendation applies to places where there is high transmission of the virus.

This means that individuals who live in states where the population largely embraced the vaccine won't be impacted by this change, but those who live in states that have largely rejected the vaccines will once again be faced with wearing masks while shopping, going to church, and similar places.

The CDC updated its guidance only weeks ahead of the fall season, a time when the weather will cool down, kids will return to school, and virus transmission will likely increase alongside rebounding cases of the flu and other respiratory illnesses. Likewise, the CDC says that kids should wear face masks when they return to school next month.

The unvaccinated burden

Insiders speaking with CNBC have shed light on the matter, claiming that the CDC believes that fully vaccinated people are responsible for only a "very small" portion of the virus transmission. With that said, it is also possible, according to the insiders, that some vaccinated people may carry more of the virus than previously anticipated, potentially resulting in them infecting unvaccinated individuals.

The CDC expressed concerns about the Delta variant in particular during its briefing, explaining that the latest data on this variant shows its "[acts] uniquely differently from past strains" of SARS-CoV-2, including being potentially more contagious.

The Delta variant is primarily ravaging states that have low vaccination rates, setting back their mitigation efforts to 2020 levels. It's expected that the vaccine will be authorized for use with kids under the age of 12 this fall, alleviating the concerns of parents as they send their kids back to school. Assuming everything goes according to plan, the FDA is expected to fully approve the COVID-19 vaccine in as early as January.