When Should Vaccinated People Wear Masks? What to Know About the Latest Guidelines

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With summer vacations and the upcoming school year bringing people out of isolation, it's important to remember that the COVID-19 pandemic still poses a threat to our public health.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new guidelines on Tuesday for those who have been vaccinated against the coronavirus, due to new science regarding the Delta variant.

"The Delta variant is showing everyday its willingness to outsmart us and to be an opportunist in areas where we have not shown a fortified response against it," said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky in a briefing.

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The Delta variant is currently the most predominant strain circulating throughout the country, showing up in four out of five infected samples. The variant acts uniquely from others, and in rare occasions, it has been known to infect vaccinated people and spread to others.

"The vast majority of transmission is occurring in unvaccinated people and through unvaccinated people," Walensky added. "But 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 the Delta variant. And we're seeing that now, infection is possible if you are a rare breakthrough infection, that you can transmit further which is the reason for the change."

People can check the COVID transmission rate in their county with this interactive map on the CDC's COVID Data Tracker. Here's what to know about the latest CDC guidelines.

Get Vaxxed

Vaccination has been shown to reduce the spread of COVID-19, in addition to preventing severe illness, hospitalization and death, even with the Delta variant. "With the Delta variant, vaccinating more Americans now is more urgent than ever," Walensky said.

Inoculated people make up a very small percentage of transmissions, and the possibility of a breakthrough infection is reduced sevenfold for those who've been vaccinated, while the possibility of hospitalization and death is reduced times 20. Those areas with the highest transmission rates have been shown to have the lowest vaccination rates, and unvaccinated people make up for the most infections.

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The CDC asks local leaders in places with substantial to high transmission rates to encourage their community to get vaccinated and take other necessary precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Mask Up

In order to help prevent the spread of the Delta variant, fully vaccinated people in places with substantial to high transmission rates are recommended to wear masks in public indoor settings. This helps protect not only those who have not been vaccinated, but those who are not old enough to be vaccinated and those who are immunocompromised.

People who have not yet been vaccinated should also continue wearing masks in public settings until they are fully vaccinated.

Back to School (Safely)

Students are recommended to return to full-time, in-person learning in the fall, with proper precautions in place. The CDC urges everyone in K-12 schools to wear masks indoors, including teachers, staff, students and visitors, regardless of vaccination status.

Children aged 11 and under are not yet able to be vaccinated, and the vaccination rate is 30% for kids between ages 12 and 17.

"This moment, and most importantly, the associated illness, suffering and death, could have been avoided with higher vaccination coverage in this country," said Walensky. "COVID-19 continues to present many challenges and has exacted a tremendous toll on our nation. We continue to follow the science closely and update the guidance, should the science shift again. We must take every step we can to stop the Delta variant and end this pandemic."

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments and visit our coronavirus hub.

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