Agency updates guidance for vaccinated and unvaccinated people in areas with widespread transmission
In a major step back from guidance issued two months ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday announced that it is now recommending that all people, regardless of vaccination status, return to wearing masks indoors in areas with widespread disease transmission.
The change in guidance comes as the result of rising case rates and new data that reveals fully vaccinated people who experience a breakthrough infection due to the Delta variant can spread the disease to others, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told reporters Tuesday.
“This new science is worrisome and unfortunately warrants an update to recommendations,” Dr. Walensky said during the briefing.
According to the latest CDC data, the Delta variant remains the most prominent variant in the U.S., and eight in 10 test samples show evidence of Delta, Dr. Walenksy said Tuesday.
In May, the agency released guidance saying that fully vaccinated individuals would be safe to go without masks in most circumstances. However, propelled by the surge of the Delta variant in various parts of the country and new science associated with transmission among vaccinated folks, Dr. Walensky said the guidance must follow the science.
“The Delta variant is showing every day its willingness to outsmart us,” Dr. Walensky said.
She later added, “This is not a decision we at CDC have made lightly. This weighs on me. Not only are people tired, they are frustrated. We have mental health challenges, we have continued sickness and death, our health systems are being overrun for what is preventable.”
In addition to updating masking guidance, the CDC also recommended Tuesday that all faculty, staff and students in schools be required to wear masks in the fall, regardless of vaccination status. Agency officials, however, added that all students should be back in the classroom in person this fall with the proper precautions in place.
The new indoor masking guidance from the CDC primarily applies to areas that are labeled as having “substantial” or “high” disease spread by the agency.
Currently, Santa Barbara County is labeled as having “substantial” disease spread by the CDC. According to CDC specifications, this means the region is seeing between 50 and 100 cases per 100,000 over the course of seven days.
As of Monday, the county’s average daily case rate was 8.7 per 100,000 and the testing positivity stood at 6.4%.
According to Dr. Henning Ansorg, the county’s public health officer, the Public Health Department’s current recommendation pertaining to indoor masking will remain in place. The department recommended last week that all people, regardless of vaccination status, wear a mask inside.
Dr. David Fisk, an infectious disease specialist with Cottage Health and Sansum Clinic, told the News-Press Tuesday that he believes the CDC’s guidance will offer additional levels of protection against the surging Delta variant across the nation. He added, however, that the guidelines are more conservative than he was hoping, as he believes that communities with “moderate” transmission should also be included in the new recommendations.
“Given the rapid upsurge in Delta everywhere in the country and in our community, it’s time to mask up indoors around the U.S.,” Dr. Fisk said. “Because, as we’ve learned over the last year and a half, you don’t want to wait for COVID to be a firestorm before you address it. You want to address it when the warning signs are there but before it knocks down your community significantly.”
In Santa Barbara County, the Public Health Department has seen an increase in breakthrough infections throughout this month, according to data on the public health community data dashboard. However, the vast majority of new cases are still occurring among the unvaccinated.
To slow the surge of cases, health experts say the community should focus on increasing the vaccination rate, wearing masks, limiting mass gatherings and encouraging individuals to stay home when they are sick.
“People are fatigued about this stuff, but we can protect ourselves with a simple mask and we can protect others,” Dr. Ansorg told the News-Press Tuesday. “It’s a small thing to ask, in my opinion. You don’t have to wear it all the time, you just have to wear it to (places like) the pharmacy or a movie theater.”
“We are not talking about shutdowns, closing business or doing restrictions,” Dr. Ansorg continued. “It’s just appealing to common sense and to responsibility towards ourselves, our neighbors and our loved ones. (Masking) would be the thing to do, and CDC gives this recommendation.”
On Tuesday, the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department reported 53 new cases of COVID-19 in the county. Officials reported 17 new cases in Santa Maria, 10 new cases in Lompoc and the communities of Mission Hills and Vandenberg Village and five new cases in the unincorporated area of the Goleta Valley and Gaviota.
Four new cases were reported in Santa Barbara and the Santa Ynez Valley, three cases were reported in the South Coast unincorporated areas of Montecito, Summerland and the city of Carpinteria and two new cases were reported in Isla Vista, Goleta and Orcutt. Four infections were pending on Tuesday.
As of the latest data from the county, 61.3% of the county’s eligible 12 and older population was fully vaccinated, and 69.5% of the same population had received at least one shot. Of the entire county population, 51.9% of people are fully vaccinated.
As of Tuesday, 17 people were hospitalized for COVID-19, and one patient was recovering in the ICU.