COVID-19 : Updated Mask Guidance

By Meaghan Enright

On Tuesday, July 27th, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidance regarding mask wearing, as the delta variant of COVID-19 spurred a surge in cases nationwide. Here in the U.S. Virgin Islands, we have seen a significant increase in our positivity rate over the past two weeks as a result of the delta variant, and our neighbors in the British Virgin Islands are experience a devastating wave of cases.

In May, the CDC announced that fully vaccinated individuals did not need to wear a mask outdoors or indoors in most situations. While the mask mandate never changed in the U.S. Virgin Islands, the new guidance is a significant shift for many in the United States.

Specifically, the new recommendations state that people who live where coronavirus transmission is classified as substantial or high should wear masks when they are indoors in public places, whether they are vaccinated or not. In addition, the guidance calls for universal mask-wearing in K-12 schools, including teachers, other staff members, students and visitors. This recommendation applies to everyone over the age of 2.

The new guidance is largely a result of the delta variant of COVID-19, which is responsible for the majority of new cases in the United States, and has been confirmed present in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The delta variant is more highly transmissible than earlier iterations of the virus, and new research, not yet published, suggests that fully vaccinated people who have breakthrough infections may have similar viral loads to unvaccinated people who become infected. The increased likelihood that vaccinated people with breakthrough infections can spread the virus is the main reason the mask guidance has been updated.

Masks continue to be an important intervention for people at heightened risk of severe illness from COVID-19 because of a weakened immune system, an underlying medical condition or advanced age.

So, where and when should you be wearing a mask? If you’re vaccinated, check the CDC case tracking for your local area. If the positivity rate is significant or high, you should be wearing a mask in public indoor spaces, and likely in crowded outdoor spaces as well. All staff and students in schools should be wearing masks. If you’re unvaccinated, you should continue to wear a mask in public and practice social distancing.