As Delta variant surges, CDC guidance on masking remains the same for now

As the highly transmissible Delta variant surges, accounting for more than 83% of COVID-19 cases in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is sticking with its current mask guidance. 

The CDC and health officials continue to say that masking is necessary for unvaccinated individuals, but not for vaccinated individuals in most indoor settings, in keeping with guidance the CDC issued in mid-May

In response to questions at the White House COVID-19 response briefing Thursday about whether they’re considering changes to the policy, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said, “We are always looking at the data as the data come in.” 

“Our guidance has been clear since we put it out several months ago,” she continued. “And that is, if you are unvaccinated, you should continue to wear a mask and protect yourself against others around you, and more importantly, you should go and get vaccinated to get better layers of protection.”

Walensky added that vaccinated people have “exceptional levels” of protection from COVID-19, but it’s still their “individual choice” if they want to wear a mask if they live in a community with a high prevalence of the virus. 

The question came up after a Washington Post report claimed top White House and administration officials are debating whether to urge vaccinated Americans to wear masks in certain settings due to the rise of the Delta variant. 

One federal health official, however, told CBS News the CDC is not planning to update its mask guidance. 

“There are no plans to change the guidance … the guidance isn’t going to change, “the official said. “Unless there’s some really compelling science that we don’t know about yet that emerges, there’s just simply no plan to change the guidance.”

The official stressed that current guidance “offers state and local health departments the flexibility they need depending on this situation in their area to incorporate mask mandates if they feel like need to.” The official pointed out that COVID-19 transmission rates vary across the country, and the current CDC guidance takes this into consideration. 

White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients said the administration would continue “to follow the science” and CDC recommendations on mask guidance, a sentiment which the White House echoed. 

White House Assistant Press Secretary Kevin Munoz said in a statement, “Public health guidance is made by the CDC, and they continue to recommend that fully vaccinated individuals do not wear a mask. If you are not vaccinated, you should be wearing a mask.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci acknowledged that there are breakthrough infections among vaccinated people, but said that it doesn’t mean the vaccine is unsuccessful. Nearly all deaths as a result of COVID-19 infection are now occurring among unvaccinated individuals. 

“By no means does that mean that you’re dealing with an unsuccessful vaccine. The success of the vaccine is based on the prevention of illness,” Fauci said Thursday. 

For the first time since January, COVID-19 cases were up in all 50 states earlier this week. Walensky called the Delta variant one of the most infectious respiratory viruses she’s seen in her career.