We’re wearing masks, again
Two months ago, the C.D.C. said vaccinated people did not need to wear masks in most indoor spaces, a move that seemed to signal a winding down of the pandemic.
But today, as the Delta variant of the virus pushes up infection rates across the country, the agency revised its guidelines: Vaccinated people should again wear masks in public indoor spaces in parts of the country where the virus is surging.
The new guidance is an admission that the mutating coronavirus is outpacing the vaccination effort, and my colleague Apoorva Mandavilli told me that the recommendation was overdue.
The C.D.C., she said, has recently come under pressure from the White House and public health experts, who wanted the agency to revisit its mask guidance as it became increasingly clear that the Delta variant causes more breakthrough infections than scientists had originally expected.
“We’re hearing more reports of breakthrough infections, and, more important, we’re hearing more reports of vaccinated people who got infected and are symptomatic,” Apoorva said.
“There’s some evidence that people infected with Delta have a lot more virus in their body — as much as a thousand fold higher — and that may also be true for breakthrough infections,” she said. “If that’s the case, vaccinated people may be transmitting the virus to others at a significant enough rate that they should be wearing masks.”
Vaccines against Covid-19 remain remarkably effective against hospitalization and death. But the new guidelines explicitly apply to both the unvaccinated and the vaccinated, a sharp departure from the agency’s position since May that vaccinated people do not need to wear masks in most indoor spaces.
Those recommendations were based on earlier data suggesting that vaccinated people rarely become infected and almost never transmit the virus, making masking unnecessary. But that was before the arrival in the U.S. of the Delta variant, which now accounts for a majority of infections in the country.
“As the number of cases rise among unvaccinated people, vaccinated people will be exposed to more and more virus, and the chances that they will get a breakthrough infection goes up,” Apoorva said.
Alongside the indoor masking guidance, the C.D.C. also recommended that teachers, staff members, students and visitors in schools wear masks, regardless of vaccination status and community transmission of the virus. Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the agency’s director, said today that schools should nonetheless return to in-person learning in the fall, with additional precautions.
“This shows us once again that it’s difficult to predict what the virus will do months down the road,” Apoorva said. “And as frustrating as it is, we just have to be OK with guidelines changing as we see increases or decreases in infections.”
Vaccinated and angry
As cases surge, mask mandates are reimposed and companies are rethinking reopenings, many vaccinated Americans are growing more frustrated with the unvaccinated, and blaming them for the return of the pandemic.
“I’ve become angrier as time has gone on,” said Doug Robertson, a teacher who lives outside Portland, Ore., and has three children too young to be vaccinated. “Now there is a vaccine and a light at the end of the tunnel, and some people are choosing not to walk toward it. You are making it darker for my family and others like mine by making that choice.”
That frustration is contributing to support for more coercive measures — like vaccine mandates. With the pace of vaccinations slowing, and infections rising, tensions are increasing between the vaccinated and unvaccinated at hospitals, workplaces, schools and within closely knit families.
Josh Perldeiner, a public defender in Connecticut who has a 2-year-old son, is fully vaccinated, but a close relative, who visits frequently, has refused to get the shots, although he and other family members have urged her to do so.
She recently tested positive for the virus after traveling to Florida, where hospitals are filling with Covid-19 patients. Now Perldeiner worries that his son, too young for a vaccine, may have been exposed.
“It goes beyond just putting us at risk,” he said. “People with privilege are refusing the vaccine, and it’s affecting our economy and perpetuating the cycle.” As infections rise, he added, “I feel like we’re at that same precipice as just a year ago, where people don’t care if more people die.”
Did you move during the pandemic? Tell us about it.
The pandemic offered many people the opportunity to redefine their living situations and to reassess what home means to them. Some moved across the country to live near family, or left a city for a house in the suburbs with a back yard, or found a cheaper apartment in a new neighborhood. For others, moving was a necessity, not an opportunity. They moved when schools closed, or when a job was lost.
If you found a new home during the pandemic, we’d like to hear about it. How are you doing?
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What else we’re following
What you’re doing
We have a trusted family friend and colleague who declines (I think that is a better word than refuses) to get vaccinated, even though his daughter and wife are. Since the C.D.C. lifted the mask mandate in May, he has been walking into our office (unmasked). Today, we told him that he is no longer allowed inside our office and has to remain at the transaction window until he is fully vaccinated. He complied. We felt bad that it had to come to this, but really, how do you navigate these social waters with the fully vaccinated vs. the unvaccinated?
— Anna Maria Vona, Philadelphia
Let us know how you’re dealing with the pandemic. Send us a response here, and we may feature it in an upcoming newsletter.
Amelia Nierenberg contributed to today’s newsletter.
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Waiting For A Big SCOOP