According to CDC data as of July 28, just under 64 percent of counties in the United States fall into the category of substantial or high transmission.
On July 27, 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its Interim Public Health Recommendations for Fully Vaccinated People and scaled back the relaxed masking guidelines for vaccinated individuals that it issued in May 2021.
Summary of Changes
For much of the pandemic, the CDC recommended that all people wear masks indoors and outdoors if within 6 feet of others. Then, this past spring, the CDC began to ease masking recommendations in response to rising vaccination rates. In May, the CDC announced that fully vaccinated people could resume all activities, indoors or outdoors, without wearing a mask or physically distancing.
With many Americans still unvaccinated and growing concerns over the delta variant, the CDC has reversed course. The latest guidance reimplements some of the earlier masking guidelines and recommends that fully vaccinated people wear a mask in public, indoor settings in areas of “substantial” or “high” transmission of COVID-19. The CDC recognizes that while the risk of infection is low in fully vaccinated people, preliminary evidence suggests that fully vaccinated people who become infected with the delta variant can spread the virus to others.
According to CDC data as of July 28, just under 64 percent of counties in the United States fall into the category of substantial or high transmission. Substantial transmission is defined as 50-99.99 new cases per 100,000 persons in the past seven days. High transmission is defined as 100 or more new cases per 100,000 persons in the past seven days. The CDC has provided an interactive map identifying the level of transmission throughout the country.
The new CDC guidance also notes that fully vaccinated people may choose to mask regardless of the level of transmission, particularly if someone in their household is immunocompromised, at increased risk for severe disease or unvaccinated. People who are at increased risk of severe disease include older adults and those who have certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, being overweight or obese, and heart conditions.
In another departure from earlier guidance, the CDC now also recommends universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students and visitors to schools, regardless of vaccination status and level of transmission. This is a clear break from CDC guidance issued earlier this month that lifted masking recommendations for fully vaccinated individuals in school settings. The CDC still takes the position that children should return to full-time, in-person learning in the fall with layered prevention strategies in place.
Exposure to Someone with Suspected or Confirmed COVID-19
Under the updated guidance, the CDC now recommends that fully vaccinated people should get tested three to five days after an exposure to someone with a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 and wear a mask in indoor settings for 14 days or until they receive a negative test result. The May guidance provided that fully vaccinated individuals, who were not experiencing symptoms, could refrain from testing following a known exposure.
What Stays the Same
Under the latest guidance, at least in nonhealthcare settings, fully vaccinated people can still:
- Participate in many of the activities that they did before the pandemic; for some of these activities, they may choose to wear a mask.
- Resume domestic travel and refrain from testing before or after travel and from self-quarantine after travel.
- Refrain from testing before leaving the United States for international travel (unless required by the destination) and refrain from self-quarantine after arriving back in the United States.
- Refrain from quarantine following a known exposure if asymptomatic.
- Refrain from routine screening testing if feasible.
The CDC still recommends prevention measures for unvaccinated people. Individuals who are not vaccinated should still wear masks and social distance in indoor and outdoor settings and quarantine after exposure to a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19.
What This Means for Employers
Employers that have returned employees to the physical workplace should consider the impact of the CDC’s latest guidance. Employers with different mask requirements for vaccinated and unvaccinated workers should monitor the rate of transmission in their area or consider requiring all employees to wear masks, regardless of vaccine status.
Employers should also comply with applicable state and local laws, including local business and workplace guidance, as well as the Occupational Safety and Health Act’s general duty clause that requires employers to keep employees safe. In light of the CDC’s new recommendations, OSHA will likely update its interim guidance for vaccinated and unvaccinated workers, which we summarized in our recent Alert.
With the pandemic far from over, and because of the delta variant and stagnant vaccination rates, the CDC will likely continue to update its safety guidance for vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals.
About Duane Morris
Duane Morris has created a COVID-19 Strategy Team to help employers plan, respond to and address this fast-moving situation. Contact your Duane Morris attorney for more information. Prior Alerts on the topic are available on the team’s webpage.
For More Information
If you have any questions about this Alert, please contact Carla N. Murphy, Elisabeth Bassani, any of the attorneys in our Employment, Labor, Benefits and Immigration Practice Group, any member of the COVID-19 Strategy Team or the attorney in the firm with whom you are regularly in contact.
Disclaimer: This Alert has been prepared and published for informational purposes only and is not offered, nor should be construed, as legal advice. For more information, please see the firm's full disclaimer.