'I thought I did everything right': The fully vaccinated are frustrated by CDC's changing mask advice

·4 min read

The new mask guidance announced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday has sparked some frustration among fully vaccinated Americans.

But not directed at the agency.

Many fully vaccinated people told USA TODAY they’re relieved the CDC is recommending them to wear masks in indoor settings, again, where COVID-19 transmission is high. They’re more frustrated the mask guidance was lifted two months ago, which may have contributed to the high transmission rates among the unvaccinated.

“I didn’t really agree with taking the masks off in the first place,” said Candace Howze, 28. “We all know America at this point, and everyone was going to stop wearing them.”

Howze lives in Wake County, North Carolina, where the CDC says transmission is substantial and indoor mask recommendations may apply. She hopes to see more people wearing masks, as she had been doing, especially as health officials see a rise in breakthrough infections.

What does this mean? CDC recommends masks for vaccinated people in high transmission areas

In a briefing Tuesday, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said the agency’s guidance was triggered by new science that showed some people infected with the delta variant after vaccination can spread the virus to others.

According to the new science, she said, fully vaccinated people with breakthrough infections from the delta variant have a similar viral load to infections in unvaccinated people, which means fully vaccinated Americans can spread the virus more easily than previously thought.

But health experts say there's hardly any transmission among fully vaccinated people for the CDC guidance to truly affect community spread.

"It makes sense why they did it, but I don't think it's going to make a major difference in the large surge that we're having," said Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health in Providence, Rhode Island. "The real issue still is unvaccinated people who are not going around masked up. I have no reason to think that this guidance will get unvaccinated, unmasked people putting on masks. And that's what we really need."

For the first time in more than three months, cases in the U.S. are now averaging more than 60,000 per day, according to a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins University data. Deaths are over 2,000 per week and health officials say unvaccinated people make up more than 90% of those deaths.

“I live in the epicenter of the delta variant, and I didn’t feel like the mask mandate should have been rolled back in the first place,” said Chelsea Merta, 33, who lives in St. Louis City, Missouri.

She’s relieved the indoor masking recommendations are back, but she’s not confident local officials will follow through, even though a map by the CDC shows high COVID-19 transmission in nearly every county.

The St. Louis area was one of the first regions in the country to reinstate a mask mandate in indoor public places and on public transportation. Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt has sued in an effort to halt the mandate, which took effect Monday.

'New science is worrisome': CDC recommends wearing masks indoors, again. What that means for vaccinated Americans.

Health officials continue to reiterate the vast majority of COVID-19 transmission occurs among the unvaccinated, not fully vaccinated people.

“Vaccinated individuals continue to represent a very small amount of transmission occurring around the country,” Walensky said. “We continue to estimate that the risk of breakthrough infection with symptoms upon exposure to the delta variant is reduced by sevenfold. The reduction is twentyfold for hospitalizations and death.”

That’s part of the frustration, said Leslie Richin, 43, who lives in Brooklyn, New York City. She thought she had done her part to combat the pandemic by getting vaccinated and her reward was unmasking in public.

Now she feels helpless and defeated because guidance seems to be dictated by unvaccinated people spreading the virus. She thought the pandemic was fizzling out, but the CDC's new guidance seems to suggest it's far from over.

“I thought I did everything right, but now you’re telling me that I have to live in a restricted way again. ... I don’t want to go backward,” she said. “I thought the vaccine was supposed to be our way out. We were kind of promised that this was our end in sight.”

Contributing: Karen Weintraub, USA TODAY; Associated Press. Follow Adrianna Rodriguez on Twitter: @AdriannaUSAT.

Health and patient safety coverage at USA TODAY is made possible in part by a grant from the Masimo Foundation for Ethics, Innovation and Competition in Healthcare. The Masimo Foundation does not provide editorial input.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: CDC mask guidelines frustrates fully vaccinated Americans

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