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Masks are back thanks to the delta variant, and the unvaccinated
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns that the coronavirus pandemic is far from over — and residents within the United States should take immediate measures to protect themselves and their loved ones.
The best way to do that? Vaccination, experts say.
During a special address on Tuesday, CDC director Rochelle Walensky warned that the highly infectious Delta variant of the coronavirus has been dominating COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations over the past several weeks and beyond. And though the current authorized vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson help lessen the severity of the virus, they can't stop it completely, she warned.
The Delta variant carries a viral load 1,000-times higher than the original virus — called Alpha — does, making it 2.5-times easier to transmit among people, Walensky said.
Additionally, new data shows that vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals who are infected carry the same high levels of the virus; that means that even though a vaccinated person may not become hospitalized like an unvaccinated person likely would, they still could share the virus with others who are not protected. She said this is a grave concern in areas with low vaccination rates.
"Unlike the Alpha variant that we had back in May, where we didn't believe that if you were vaccinated you could transmit further, this is different now with a Delta variant," Walensky said.
Walensky said that the virus could mutate further and become even more infectious, adding that the country's overall low vaccination rates enabled the Delta variant in the first place.
"This could have been avoided with higher vaccination coverage in this country," she said.
No vaccine is 100% effective, but according to Yale University, the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson (J&J) COVID-19 vaccines are about 95%, 94% and 72% effective
, respectively. Experts say that the vaccines largely lessen the effects of COVID-19 and its variants, including Delta.
Walensky said that the CDC now is recommending that all individuals resume wearing face masks indoors and in crowds if they're in regions of high transmission — and that goes for vaccinated individuals too. Walensky stressed that because of Delta's high transmissibility, it's much easier to infect people who can't be vaccinated at this time, such as children under age 12 or immunocompromised people.
"We're seeing now that it's actually possible if you're a rare breakthrough infection that you can transmit further, which is the reason for the change," Walensky said.
Walensky also said the CDC recommends masking for all students and employees in schools from kindergarten through 12th grade.
"CDC recommends localities encourage universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to schools, regardless of vaccination status," the CDC's new guidance says. "Children should return to full-time in-person learning in the fall with proper prevention strategies are in place."
In May, the CDC had advised that vaccinated individuals no longer needed to mask up but unvaccinated individuals should continue to wear masks, practice physical distancing and consider vaccination. New data has changed that.
"We're not changing the science," Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease, told CNN Tuesday night
. "The virus changed, and the science evolved with the changing virus."