The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health is recommending that all residents, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks indoors “as a precaution” due to the highly transmissible delta variant.
The recommendation that even fully vaccinated people wear masks indoors differs from the national guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued in May that, outside a few settings such as public transit, the vaccines offer such strong protection that fully vaccinated people do not need to wear masks.
The CDC has given no indication that it plans to change its recommendation because of the delta variant, and many other experts and jurisdictions in the U.S. have not followed Los Angeles’s recommendation.
The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health noted that “fully vaccinated people appear to be well protected from infections with Delta variants.”
Still, it said, “Public Health strongly recommends people wear masks indoors in settings such as grocery or retail stores; theaters and family entertainment centers, and workplaces when you don't know everyone's vaccination status.”
“Until we better understand how and to who the Delta variant is spreading, everyone should focus on maximum protection with minimum interruption to routine as all businesses operate without other restrictions, like physical distancing and capacity limits,” the department added.
Experts say that the delta variant is mainly a threat to unvaccinated people. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have been found to be highly effective against it. A British study last month found the Pfizer vaccine was 88 percent effective against the delta variant after two doses, for example.
But without proof of vaccination or vaccine “passports,” an idea that has been politically controversial, it is impossible to know who is vaccinated and who isn’t, which blanket mask recommendations can get around.
“Right call by Los Angeles County officials, if indoor spaces have both vaccinated & unvaccinated people,” tweeted Leana Wen, a health expert at George Washington University, in response to the recommendation. “It's what the CDC should have said all along--that UNLESS there's proof of vaccination checked, masks are needed in indoor, public spaces.”
The delta variant currently makes up about 1 in 5 cases in the U.S., the CDC says, and it is on the rise, posing a threat to people who remain unvaccinated and threatening localized spikes in cases in areas with low vaccination rates.
Still, experts say not to panic about the variant and that the clear solution is to get vaccinated.
“Take this variant seriously. Esp if not vaccinated,” tweeted Megan Ranney, a health expert at Brown University. “But the sky isn’t fully falling…yet. This is a warning shot. Many of the vaccines still work, for now. The quicker we vaccinate the globe, the lower the chance of a future variant that will put us back to 2020.”