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Experts weigh in on new CDC mask guidance

Lauren Jackson wears a face mask while sitting inside a Starbucks in New York on Tuesday, July 27, 2021. Revising a decision made just two months ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Tuesday that people vaccinated against the coronavirus should resume wearing masks in public indoor spaces in parts of the country where the virus is surging.
Lauren Jackson wears a face mask while sitting inside a Starbucks in New York on Tuesday, July 27, 2021. Revising a decision made just two months ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Tuesday that people vaccinated against the coronavirus should resume wearing masks in public indoor spaces in parts of the country where the virus is surging.BRITTAINY NEWMAN/NYT

Public health specialists on Tuesday praised the CDC for issuing new masking guidelines recommending that even vaccinated people return to wearing face coverings indoors in parts of the U.S. where COVID-19 is surging.

“Glad the CDC is finally doing what many of us in public health have been urging,” tweeted Dr. Leana Wen, a commentator and emergency physician who currently serves as a visiting professor at the Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University. “The reality on the ground has changed, and the Biden administration is acknowledging that their guidance has to change accordingly.”

Citing new information about the ability of the Delta variant to spread among vaccinated people, CDC officials Tuesday also recommended indoor masks for all teachers, staff, students and visitors to schools, regardless of vaccination status.

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Dr. Abraar Karan, an infectious disease fellow at Stanford University who previously worked at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, said the updated guidance wasn’t evidence of the CDC waffling on a pressing public health issue.

“For all of those saying that this is ‘backtracking’ [t]here is no backtracking in an epidemic,” Karan tweeted. “There are no absolutes. We adapt as the virus evolves. People need to start understanding this.”

Dr. Caitlin Rivers, an epidemiologist who teaches at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, tweeted that Tuesday’s announcement may also be aimed at the unvaccinated, as well as those who’ve gotten fully inoculated.

“Allowing vaxxed people to unmask may have had the side effect of everyone unmasking, vaxxed or not. Today’s mask guidance may also be intended to get more unvaccinated people to mask up again,” Rivers tweeted.

She said vaccines continue “to be great at preventing severe illness,” and that “the precautionary principle, getting unvaxxed to mask and rising hospitalizations all likely factor in to updated mask guidance.”

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Andy Slavitt, a former advisor the Biden administration on COVID-19 response, also weighed in.

He tweeted that the “risk of Delta has amped up the need for vaccination. And CDC and the Administration have and are continuing to push every American to consider vaccination. As that reaches limits, CDC posture must change. And it is.”

If, he continued, “Delta burns through fast (as trends in India and the UK suggest) or vaccination rates jump or something else changes, CDC guidance will change again. ... This guidance shouldn’t confuse the fact that we are far far safer than last year. And many activities— importantly school and other gatherings can still be done safely.”

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.


Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.