Due to the spread of the delta coronavirus variant, vaccinated people may still want to mask up in some scenarios at this stage of the COVID-19 pandemic, Anthony Fauci, M.D., said this week.
The official guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for fully vaccinated people is that they don’t need to wear a mask, Dr. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNBC anchors on Wednesday. But there are certain factors that might make continued masking a good idea for some individuals.
“The broad overall CDC recommendation is that if you are vaccinated, you are protected and you don’t need to wear a mask indoors or outdoors,” Dr. Fauci said. However, individuals who live in areas with low vaccination rates, as well as high transmission and case rates, may want to exercise extra caution and wear a mask when indoors, especially as the more infectious delta variant spreads.
Many local authorities in areas of the country that are seeing high levels of infection and transmission, such as Los Angeles County, are suggesting or requiring people to wear masks regardless of vaccination status, Dr. Fauci said. “Because of the high level of infection and transmission there, they are saying that even if you’re vaccinated, it’s suggested that you wear a mask when you are indoors in a situation where you have a level of dynamics of virus in the community that’s high,” Dr. Fauci explained.
Another circumstance where people might want to mask up is if they’re a parent or have close contact with unvaccinated kids. When anchor Sara Eisen, who has two young children, asked if people in her position should wear a mask to prevent developing a breakthrough infection and then passing the virus on to her children, Dr. Fauci said it was definitely worth thinking about. “You might want to consider, if you want to go the extra mile of safety even though you’re vaccinated when you’re indoors, particularly in crowded places, you might want to consider wearing a mask,” Dr. Fauci said.
It’s worth noting that the World Health Organization (WHO) does recommend vaccinated people wear masks amid the rise of the more transmissible delta variant to minimize community transmission, particularly among unvaccinated folks. While Dr. Fauci expects we will see more local authorities instituting mask recommendations or requirements for vaccinated and unvaccinated people alike, he doubts there will be another nationwide mask mandate due to the high level of “pushback” that would receive.
But taking the extra step of wearing a mask, regardless of local or national mandates, could be a smart choice—especially as vaccination rates stagnate and breakthrough cases of the delta variant continue to occur. “We are concerned that we are seeing more so-called breakthrough infections,” Dr. Fauci said. “This virus is clearly different than the viruses and the variants that we’ve had experience with before. It has an extraordinary capability of transmitting from person to person.”
Still, breakthrough infections are uncommon, and it’s unvaccinated people who have the highest risk for getting sick or dying from COVID-19 by far. The “overwhelmingly vast majority” of breakthrough infections are asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic, Dr. Fauci says, suggesting the vaccines are still highly effective against the delta variant. “It looks very much the vaccines do continue to protect quite well against hospitalization and death, even against the delta variant.”
Dr. Fauci took the opportunity to remind folks, again, that the best way to curb the spread of the highly infectious delta variant (and prevent the rise of other new variants) is to get vaccinated. “The easiest and best and most effective way that we can prevent the emergence of a new variant,” he said, “and crush the already existing delta variant is to get everyone vaccinated.”