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CDC issues new mask guidelines: Our expert explains

School children in classroom wearing masks Photo: Getty Images

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued new guidelines on when, where and who should wear face masks to protect against COVID-19. Here, VCU Health infectious disease expert Michael Stevens, M.D., explains the new guidelines.

What are the new guidelines and how do they differ from the previous guidelines?

The CDC now recommends that both vaccinated and unvaccinated people mask indoors in areas with significant community spread. Before, vaccinated people did not have to mask indoors. The CDC also recommends that all students, teachers and staff in K-12 schools wear masks regardless of vaccination status.

Why did the CDC issue the new guidelines?

Significant increased spread in the U.S., likely driven by the delta variant, led to the change. The delta variant is about twice as infectious as the original strain of the virus. There are also newer data suggesting a small portion of vaccinated people can become infected and transmit the infection.

How will we know whether our local community will require masks?

We should watch for guidance from the Virginia Department of Health. People can also see the level of community transmission on this CDC site.

If I’m vaccinated, do I have to follow the recommendations?

Given the recent increase in community spread, it is prudent for everyone to follow the new recommendations.

Does this mean that children can get the virus just like adults?

Absolutely. This has been the case throughout the pandemic.

If the CDC recommends that children inside the classroom wear masks, should we have them wear masks outside the classroom, too, just to be safe? 

Children 2 years of age and older should follow the same guidance as adults (mask in indoor settings). 

What about the older kids, who’ve been vaccinated? Will they have to wear masks in school?

Yes, this applies to all kids in K-12 schools.

Are the guidelines mandatory? When will they take effect?

The guidelines are not mandatory, but they are in effect now.

For more information on the safety of the COVID-19 vaccine for children, please see Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU. To schedule your child’s vaccination, visit the CHoR vaccination page.

For more information

For a variety of news and information on COVID-19 and how VCU Health is keeping patients safe, please visit our COVID-19 News Center

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