Why the United States is not following World Health Organization guidelines on masks


The World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are lagging in their guidelines on COVID-19 masks, causing confusion.

In light of the soaring cases of the COVID-19 Delta variant around the world, last week, the WHO called on all vaccinated people to continue wearing masks.

The CDC, however, did not follow suit. The US agency is still sticking to its guidelines – announced in May – for vaccinated people to ditch their masks indoors and outdoors, as long as it is two weeks after their last vaccine injection. Unvaccinated people are expected to continue to wear their masks and respect social distancing.

Why does the WHO advise the wearing of masks for vaccinated people?

During a press conference on Friday, the WHO indicated that the rise in power of new variants required to do everything possible against the virus, especially in places that had lowered their guard.

The WHO, which is monitoring the pandemic from a global perspective, considered the vast majority of the world to be unvaccinated or to have less effective vaccines. The organization also highlighted disparities in vaccine status. By comparison, the United States has only been able to lift restrictions on businesses, reopen cities and end mask warrants because of its access to hundreds of millions of vaccines.

WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said it was now “even more urgent that we use all the tools at our disposal” in the global fight against the coronavirus.

Dr Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden, described the rest of the world as “basically an unvaccinated planet” in an interview with ABC News on Tuesday, when asked about the light of day between advice from both organizations.

“There are countries that are doing well, but many, many countries have very little immunization,” Fauci said.

This means that even those who have been vaccinated are potentially surrounded by high levels of COVID-19, including the rapidly spreading variant, which could increase the chances of rupture cases, especially in countries where vaccines are less effective.

But in the United States, the two most common vaccines have been shown to be quite effective against the variant.

The United States has pledged to share 80 million vaccines with the rest of the world by the end of June, although they are currently behind schedule. So far, 24 million have been released, according to an Associated Press tally.

What did the CDC say in response?

In the United States, people who have been vaccinated are always so safe that masks are not needed, CDC director Rochelle Walensky said on ABC’s “Good Morning America” ​​on Wednesday.

“The vaccinated, we think, are still safe,” Walensky said.

“We have always said this virus is an opportunist and in areas where we still have low vaccination rates, this is where the virus is likely to take hold,” Walensky said. “We are still seeing an increase in cases in areas with low vaccination.”

That’s exactly what Los Angeles did on Monday, when they announced a return to indoor masking for everyone, vaccinated or not, after finding out that cases of the Delta variant were almost half. of all sequenced cases in the county, or one in five. new infections.

About half of the county is fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.

Los Angeles County Public Health has recommended masks for theatrical purchases, theaters, and workplaces – any public place where “you don’t know everyone’s immunization status” – as an extra step to stop the disease. spread, beyond vaccines.

“Until we have a better understanding of how and to whom the Delta variant spreads, everyone should focus on maximum protection with minimal disruption to the routine, as all businesses operate without other restrictions, like physical distancing. and capacity limits, ”the department wrote in a press release.

Fauci, like Walensky, urged the decision to be made locally “if they feel that the level of spread of the Delta variant is really deep in their particular region,” he said.

People can also think about their individual comfort level, especially if they are elderly or immunocompromised, which can reduce the effectiveness of vaccines and increase the risk of COVID-19, he added.

If the data changes, the CDC will update its guidelines, Fauci said.

“We know from good studies that the Delta variant is protected by the vaccines that are basically used here. And that is why the CDC believes at this point that they should not change their recommendation,” he said. -he declares.

“But for now, the recommendation remains the same. These are very, very effective vaccines. So if there was ever a bugle call as to why we should get the vaccine, that’s the threat of the Delta variant. , because if you are not vaccinated you are clearly at risk of a problematic virus that spreads faster, “he added.

The nationwide vaccination rate fell 20% last week. Currently, about 66% of all American adults over 18 have received an injection and that rises to 88% for people over 65.

The states with the lowest vaccination rates are Mississippi, Louisiana, Wyoming and Alabama, where 50% or less of adults have received an injection of the vaccine, about 15% less than the country as a whole.

That said, Walensky was still in favor of an Independence Day celebration weekend, which she said was well deserved after 16 months of fear and pain.

“I think we have a lot of reasons to be thankful for July 4th,” she said.

“People who have been vaccinated can take off their masks and celebrate July 4th and feel safe, see each other and smile again. And then we will have to continue the hard work we are doing to get people vaccinated,” she said. .

Where exactly is the Delta variant spreading in the United States?

Unfortunately, it’s everywhere. The Delta variant was found in all 50 states on Wednesday. Some places have more cases than others – and the reason is very clear: low vaccination rates.

As of June 19, the highly transmissible variant accounted for 26.1% of new cases, up from about 3% of new cases just over a month ago.

But in parts of the country making up most of the West and Midwest, the proportion of Delta variant cases is estimated to be twice as high, to more than 50% of cases, according to a CDC estimate. These regions include Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming.

All of these states have less than 50% of their total population fully immunized, with the exception of Colorado, which recently passed the midpoint.

Dr Ashish Jha, dean of the School of Public Health at Brown University, told the New York Times that he would be more careful if he was in some of those states with low vaccination rates, although that they are fully vaccinated.

“I wouldn’t be happy to go inside without wearing a mask – even if I’m vaccinated,” he told The Times.

Jha, like many in the public health arena, used the looming threat of the Delta variant to come up with the fastest solution: vaccines for everyone who qualifies.

“Vaccines are an issue and I continue to be concerned about the number of people who are reluctant to get vaccinated when it is so much safer to get vaccinated now than not,” he told CNN. .

Arielle Mitropoulos and Sony Salzman of ABC News contributed to this report.


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