CDC recommends majority of Colorado counties mask up

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended Tuesday that vaccinated people wear masks in indoor public places in counties with “high” or “substantial” spread of COVID-19 — which includes the majority of Colorado.

The CDC defines substantial transmission as 50 or more cases per 100,000 people over the last week.

According to the CDC’s data tracker, 38 Colorado counties have that level of spread. State data shows a few more places could be affected, with 41 counties having case rates at least that high as of Monday afternoon.

The agency also recommended that all staff, students and visitors in K-12 schools wear masks as they return this fall. Most Denver metro school districts have not said whether they’ll require masks in the upcoming school year, though Aurora Public Schools will require unvaccinated teachers to wear masks.

The recommendations aren’t binding, though states and counties could issue their own public health orders.

They come roughly two months after the CDC announced vaccinated people didn’t need to wear masks under most circumstances. At the time, some hoped the carrot of going maskless would encourage skeptics to get vaccinated, but the effect was that most people dropped their masks, regardless of whether they were fully protected.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, said in a news conference Tuesday that “breakthrough” infections of vaccinated people are more common with the delta variant of the virus, and that vaccinated people who get infected carry as much of the virus as unvaccinated people, according to The New York Times.

The “viral load” a person carries isn’t the only factor in how contagious they may be, but finding high numbers in vaccinated people raises the possibility that they could unwittingly spread the virus, even if they don’t become ill themselves.

Data from Israel and the United Kingdom shows the Pfizer vaccine is highly effective in preventing serious illness from the delta variant, but studies on how well it prevents mild or asymptomatic infections are more mixed.

Recent studies from Israel found it could lower the odds of any infection as much as 64% or as little as 39%. Less data is available on the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, because they weren’t used in countries that were hit by the delta variant earlier than the United States.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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