The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance on Tuesday, recommending that vaccinated Americans wear masks indoors in certain circumstances due to the highly transmissible Delta variant of Covid-19. This may throw a wrench in return-to-campus plans for colleges that aimed to resume pre-pandemic operations.
This is a deviation from the CDC’s previous guidance that said fully vaccinated people could resume activities without wearing masks or physically distancing. Public-health experts say the Delta variant is significantly more infectious because it takes less time to infect those within close proximity who are unmasked and inside.
“Casual contact with people that may have been relatively low risk in the early days of the pandemic is now a much higher-risk situation,” said Céline Gounder, an infectious-disease specialist and epidemiologist at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine and a former adviser for the Biden-Harris Transition Covid-19 Advisory Board.
The Delta variant is also being contracted by younger unvaccinated people at a faster rate, according to Eleanor Wilson, an associate professor for the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
Hundreds of campuses across the country have started requiring students or employees to get vaccinated, but since May, a number of institutions have loosened on-campus mask mandates. That may be about to change.
The CDC recommended masks in public indoor spaces, including schools, in parts of the country where there’s “substantial or high transmission” and regardless of vaccination status. The new guidelines also encouraged wearing a mask for those who have weakened immune systems or underlying medical conditions, and those who live with an immunocompromised or unvaccinated individual.
Public-health experts are advising more institutions, including colleges and universities, to encourage their communities to get vaccinated.
“If you want to put a stop to emerging variants, you’ve got to put a stop to transmission,” Gounder said.
Some campuses have already announced policy changes in response to the spread of the Delta variant and the CDC’s new guidance:
- The California State University system has accelerated the timeline its vaccination requirement. Its campuses will now require all faculty, staff, and students to receive at least a first dose of the vaccine by the beginning of the fall semester, with full vaccination required by September 30. The system originally announced that the requirement would take effect when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted full approval of the vaccine.
- The University of Oklahoma will issue updated protocols in light of the new CDC guidelines. The Delta variant makes up more than 45 percent of variant strains in Oklahoma, according to the OU Daily.