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No, you’re not crazy. Yes, the CDC’s mask guidelines are confusing — why you should wear a mask indoors even if you’re vaccinated

Wear a mask. Don’t wear a mask. Make one. Buy one. Wear it outdoors. Wear it indoors.

Confused? You’re not alone.

“The delta variant is showing us every day its willingness to outsmart us,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, told the press conference. “The delta variant behaves in uniquely, different from past strains of the virus that cause COVID-19.”

The advice is not definitive, but the delta variant is not exclusive to some states. It has spread all over the U.S. Some people, who remain skittish about the possibility of the virus spreading even in regions with high vaccination rates, may use these latest guidelines to mask up again.

This is one of many U-turns by the CDC. Walensky previously said people who are vaccinated could ditch the masks outdoors and indoors, when they were among other vaccinated people. “We have all longed for this moment when we can get back to some sense of normalcy,” she said in May.

‘The spread of the delta variant and a large minority of vaccine holdouts is a game-changer for unmasked vaccinated Americans.’

Vaccines from Johnson & Johnson


and Moderna

have helped to slow the spread of the virus, but the spread of the delta variant and a large minority of vaccine holdouts is a game-changer for unmasked vaccinated Americans.

The delta variant accounts for approximately 83% of all U.S. cases of the coronavirus, even if 99% of COVID-related deaths are among the unvaccinated. Whatever way you analyze the figures, we are still far, far away from normal, particularly for areas such as Arkansas, Florida and Louisiana.

You can take off your mask except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance. You still need a mask on buses and trains, in museums and most stores, possibly at your place of work, but not inside restaurants, except when you’re going to the rest room.

How do you know a maskless person is vaccinated? It’s an honors system. The CDC guidance gives more reason for people to abide by that old American Express slogan: “Don’t leave home without it.” People are leaving home without their masks, and getting on planes and refusing to mask up.

Private organizations have agency to make their own rules. For summer camps, the CDC says: “Camps may also choose to continue to require masks for vaccinated, and not fully vaccinated campers and staff in order to adhere to prevention strategies when it is difficult to tell who has been vaccinated or to set an example for not fully vaccinated campers.”

The Moneyist: Is it ethical for cruise lines, venues, schools or Broadway to restrict entry to people not vaccinated against COVID-19?

The one consistent part of the pandemic is that everything — mask policy, included — is subject to change. In April 2020, the Trump administration and the CDC reversed their policies on face masks, and said all Americans should wear cloth face coverings and not — as officials previously said — just medical workers. Former President Donald Trump cited “recent studies,” while the CDC cited “new evidence.”

That U-turn most of all was, perhaps, hard for many people to swallow. Forgive the public for having mask rules fatigue. We’ve been on quite a journey. Studies earlier in the pandemic suggested that adopting the practice of mask wearing, one that was already accepted in many Asian cultures, would have saved tens of thousands of lives. People were understandably frustrated, but also eager to do anything they could to stop the virus.

‘You still need a mask on buses and trains, in museums and most stores, possibly at your place of work, but not inside restaurants, except when you’re going to the rest room.’

Here’s a brief flashback to what happened: Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the Center for the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said in a briefing on Jan. 30, 2020, “The virus is not spreading in the general community. We don’t routinely recommend the use of face masks by the public to prevent respiratory illness. And we certainly are not recommending that at this time for this new virus.”

Three months later, however, the country had an unpleasant needle-scratching-vinyl moment when New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, ordered all New Yorkers to cover their faces in public when they can’t maintain a proper social distance. “You’re walking down the street alone? Great! You’re now at an intersection and there are people at the intersection, and you’re going to be in proximity to other people? Put the mask on.”

Many people were and are fed up, it seems.

Little wonder: The CDC’s newest announcement on Tuesday took some, if not all, health professionals by surprise: According to a New York Times survey in May, 29% of epidemiologists surveyed thought people would be wearing masks in public spaces for at least another year, while 26% said they believed people would do so for another year.

However, another 26% said they thought mask wearing would continue in some form from now on.

The CDC’s latest mask announcement are just guidelines and, despite criticism from some members of the press, Walensky is not afraid to change the guidelines when the science changes. One person’s perception of indecisiveness is another’s ability to act boldly, if not always consistently, in a public-health crisis. Because that is the nature of the beast.

It’s up to individual states to decide what to do next. As it stands, a paltry eight states, including California, New York and Washington, require people who are not full vaccinated to wear face masks in most indoor public settings, the AARP points out.

But the kind of consistency that some commentators crave can be overrated. Case in point: nearly a dozen states did not impose any mask mandate during the pandemic, despite the evidence that they help slow the spread of the virus. Alaska’s Department of Health and Social Services, for instance, “strongly encourages the wearing of masks in public,” but state lawmakers have not required it.

That sometimes vociferous reaction to each announcement by the CDC illustrates the tension, fear and frustration not only with state laws and changing guidance, but with each other. Stock markets don’t like uncertainty, and neither do human beings. And while some Americans don’t abide by mask guidelines at all, more than a year into the pandemic most people are doing the best they can.

(This story was updated on July 27, 2021.)

People walk along the Venice Beach boardwalk on April 28, 2021 in Venice, Calif.

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