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SPIKE IN COVID-19 DELTA VARIANT TRANSMISSION RATES PROMPTS CDC TO ROLL BACK MASK GUIDANCE FOR VACCINATED…


In May 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the “CDC”) issued welcome guidance announcing that people who had completed the full vaccination regimen for any of the three available COVID-19 vaccines could dispense with the need to don masks in most settings. However, owing to an alarming increase in transmission rates tied largely to unvaccinated segments of the United States population and the rise of the delta variant, the CDC adjusted that guidance in a July 27, 2021 announcement.

Specifically, the CDC now recommends that vaccinated people wear a mask in indoor public settings if they are located in a county that has a “substantial” or “high” transmission rate. The transmission rate is determined by public health authorities by measuring the average daily new infection rate over a seven-day rolling period in each county. The CDC provides a “real time” interactive map that allows people to determine whether their county is currently in a “substantial” or “high” transmission rate posture. Currently, approximately 60 percent of counties in the United States meet the threshold to trigger the masking requirement.

The CDC explained its revised position as reflecting the unique properties of the delta variant, including its ease of transmission. At the time the CDC originally eased masking guidelines in May 2021, the delta variant accounted for only 1% of reported infections, whereas now, it accounts for at least 83%. The CDC further noted that vaccinated individuals are still capable of becoming infected and transmitting the disease to others.

The new CDC guidance does not impact state or local directives, which can institute more stringent requirements. The new CDC guidance also does not have any meaningful effect for people in Los Angeles County, which has required the use of masks in indoor public settings for vaccinated and unvaccinated people alike since July 18, 2021.

An expanded overview of CDC and EEOC guidance, and other guidance relevant to COVID-19, is available in Castle Publications’ Employer’s Guide To COVID-19 And Emerging Workplace Issues: Year 2. The publication is available electronically and was recently updated to reflect the latest guidance from OSHA.

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