National Institute of Health Director Francis Collins said Sunday the revised mask guidance is “mostly about protecting the unvaccinated.”
“That’s where the real serious risks of illness are,” Dr. Collins told CNN’s “State of the Union.” “If you’re vaccinated right now, your likelihood of getting sick is 25-fold reduced.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made waves by reversing May guidance that said fully vaccinated persons do not need to wear masks in most settings. They said unvaccinated and vaccinated persons should wear masks in public indoor spaces in counties with “high” or “substantial” levels of transmission based on studies showing vaccinated persons with “breakthrough infections” from the delta variant may be able to spread the pathogen around in some instances.
“Vaccinated people are capable of getting the virus in their nose and throat and they do seem to have high enough levels of virus that they might be contagious,” Dr. Collins said. “Hence the reason if you’re in a community where this virus is spreading, which is about 75% of counties right now, it is prudent to put on a mask, even if you’re vaccinated, just in case you might be someone who is currently spreading it.”
The phenomenon applies to “a very small percentage of people” but it is important to let vaccinated people know about it, former Food and Drug Commissioner Scott Gottlieb told CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
Scientists fear the virus will spread to the unvaccinated, who are filling hospitals in parts of the country; children under age 12 who aren’t eligible for the vaccines yet; and the immunocompromised, who are unable to benefit from vaccines by mounting a sufficient antibody response.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that’s what makes mask-wearing a collective responsibility.
“The fact is, if you get infected, even if you are without symptoms, you very well may infect another person who may be vulnerable,” Dr. Fauci told ABC’s “This Week.” “So in essence, you are encroaching on their individual rights.”
Experts also say a rapid expansion of vaccination will suppress the virus enough to keep it from evolving into something so dangerous that can elude protection from the shots.
U.S. efforts to rein in the pandemic come as case and hospitalization counts rise from the fast-moving delta variant first detected in India.
Dr. Collins said COVID-19 is having “a pretty big party in the middle of the country” as parts of Florida, Louisiana, Arkansas and other states see a flood of patients. He said the good news is more people seem to be seeking out the shots amid renewed fears.
The U.S. was administering an average of 650,000 doses per day by the end of the past week, up from around 500,000 on July 20.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, said he’s seeing an uptick in some of his rural counties, in part because of fears around the delta variant.
“The whole game today is vaccinations,” Mr. DeWine told CNN. “People are making those decisions out there based on what they’re seeing in their counties and what they’re hearing on the news.”