The Infectious Diseases Society of America on Monday issued a warning for the U.S.
Four days after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance relaxing its stance on mask-wearing in public for fully vaccinated people, and amid confusion among the general public as to the rules, the organization said it supports the CDC’s recommendations, but cautioned, “The CDC recommendations should not send the message that the pandemic is over.”
“We also emphasize that the recommendations make no change to mask-wearing guidance in health care settings, schools and public high-traffic areas including airports, as well as on airplanes, buses and other forms of public transportation,” IDSA said. “Less than half of the U.S. population is fully immunized. Increased vaccinations will be necessary to control and finally end the pandemic.”
The CDC issued its new guidance last Thursday. “Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities, large or small, without wearing a mask or physical distancing,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the CDC, said in a video statement. “If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic.”
On Sunday, Walensky defended the policy change. “I’m delivering the science as the science is delivered to the medical journals. And it evolved,” she told Fox News. “I deliver it as soon as I can when we have that information available.” The guidance also still requires masks in crowded indoor settings including buses, trains, planes, museums, hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters.
The announcement took many health professionals by surprise: According to a New York Times survey, 29% of epidemiologists thought people would be wearing masks in public spaces for at least another year, while 26% said they believed people would do so for another year, and 26% said they thought mask wearing would continue in some form from now on.
The change in the CDC’s mask guidelines, which states do not have to adopt, came just over a year after the CDC said everyone should wear masks to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. The Trump administration and CDC in April 2020 reversed their policy on face masks, saying everyone — not just healthcare workers, as previously advised — should wear face coverings.
The expectation of herd immunity is not entirely a realistic one given the number of people who will not get vaccinated due to fears about side effects or for other political and ideological reasons, experts say. The government continues the rollout of vaccines from Johnson & Johnson JNJ, +0.10%, Pfizer-BioNTech PFE, +0.22% and Moderna MRNA, -0.59%.
In the U.S., 37% of the total population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and more than 47.3% had received at least one dose as of Monday, according to the CDC. President Biden said earlier this month that he aimed to have 70% of adults in the U.S. have at least one vaccine dose by July 4, up from 59.7% currently.
“Additional guidance is needed to clarify safe interactions in public spaces and workplaces when vaccination status is unknown,” said IDSA, which is made up of 12,000 physicians, scientists and public-health experts. “The new recommendations increase the importance of accelerated and innovative efforts to reach under-served populations.”
“If vaccination rates do not increase substantially and more dangerous variants continue to spread, transmission may increase, necessitating stricter masking and distancing policies,” the organization added. “Continued vaccination nationwide remains essential to avoiding resurgence of the virus in the U.S., and acceleration of vaccination worldwide is a humanitarian imperative.”