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The CDC Updated Its COVID-19 Guidance. Here’s What You Need To Know

The CDC is once again recommending that all individuals wear masks indoors in areas where COVID-19 cases are surging.

UPDATED on Thursday, July 28, 2021 — Illinois Newsroom’s Christine Herman spoke with Champaign-Urbana Public Health Administrator Julie Pryde about what changes people can expect to see locally. Listen to that interview here:

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday reversed course on its mask guidance, once again suggesting all individuals wear masks indoors in areas where COVID-19 cases are surging.

Here’s what else we learned from the CDC’s Director Rochelle Walensky:

  • Vaccinated people represent a “very small amount of transmission” in the U.S. Vaccines provide an estimated 7-fold reduction in risk of infection from the more contagious delta variant, and a 20-fold reduction in risk of hospitalization or death.
  • The delta variant now makes up eight 10 of new COVID cases nationwide.
  • On rare occasions, a vaccinated person can contract the delta variant. Ongoing CDC investigations suggest that people with breakthrough infections with the delta variant may be contagious.
  • In areas with “high or substantial transmission,” the CDC recommends all individuals, including those who are vaccinated, wear masks in indoor settings.
  • The CDC recommends everyone in K-12 schools wear a mask indoors, regardless of vaccination status. 
  • With only 30 percent of adolescents ages 12 to 17 fully vaccinated and schools starting to return, the new mask recommendation is intended to keep students and staff safe. Children under 12 are still not eligible for the vaccine.
  • CDC officials say children should return to in-person learning full-time in the fall but with protections in place.
  • The vaccines that are currently available offer significant protection against existing variants. The concern is that if cases continue to surge, new variants could arise that may be able to evade vaccines.

So how do you know if you live in an area of high or substantial spread? The CDC has a map that classifies every county as either low, moderate, substantial or high rate of transmission. The map is based on the total new cases per 100,000 people in the past seven days.

Nearly half of the counties in the U.S. — 1,495 — have a high level of community transmission, according to the CDC map. Most of the southern part of the country is at a high level of spread.

Another 548 counties have substantial spread.

In Indiana, most of the state is at substantial or high spread. Illinois looks the same. The rates of transmission in Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio are slightly better, with most counties having moderate spread currently. In Iowa, the state has a mix of moderate, substantial and high levels of spread.

Meanwhile, in Missouri, all but five counties have a high rate of transmission. Most counties in Kentucky are either substantial or high spread.

Want to know more about whether you should wear a mask? Check out this guide.

Picture of Christine Herman

Christine Herman

Christine Herman is a Ph.D. chemist turned audio journalist who covers health for the Illinois Newsroom. Her reporting for Illinois Public Media/WILL has received awards from the Illinois Associated Press Broadcasters Association, the Public Media Journalists Association and has reached both regional and national audiences through WILL's health reporting partnership with Side Effects Public Media, NPR and Kaiser Health News. Christine started at WILL in 2015.

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