The World Health Organization urged full vaccinated people to “play it safe” and wear face masks amid the spread of COVID-19’s Delta variant — marking a departure from leading US health officials’ current recommendations.
The conflicting advice has prompted confusion about whether vaccinated Americans should mask up again as the Delta strain — which is understood to be more transmissible and cause more severe cases of the disease — becomes the most dominant worldwide.
Dr. Mariangela Simao, WHO assistant director-general for access to medicines and health products, said that people who are vaccinated “cannot feel safe just because they had two doses,” CNBC reported.
“Vaccine alone won’t stop community transmission. People need to continue to use masks consistently, be in ventilated spaces, hand hygiene … the physical distance, avoid crowding,” Simao said at a briefing.
“This still continues to be extremely important, even if you’re vaccinated when you have a community transmission ongoing.”
WHO senior adviser Dr. Bruce Aylward also urged vaccinated people to be “appropriately cautious” as the Delta variant drives surges in numerous regions.
“We still live in a world that is only partially vaccinated that has a lot of susceptibility, a lot of vulnerability. What we’re saying is, once you’ve been fully vaccinated, continue to play it safe,” Aylward said.
Aylward, however, acknowledged that the advice comes as some countries, including the US, have largely done away with COVID-19 rules, such as mask mandates.
“Yes, you can reduce some measures — and different countries have different recommendations in that regard — but there’s still the need for caution,” he said.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not responded to request for comment on the WHO officials’ warning or whether it will reconsider its current guidance, which states that vaccinated people can resume activities without wearing a mask or social distancing — unless they’re required to by state or local law.
“Based on what we know about COVID-19 vaccines, people who have been fully vaccinated can do things that they had stopped doing because of the pandemic,” the guidelines say.
New York state has adopted an approach based off the CDC’s recommendations.
“The people of New York and visitors alike should take solace in the lifting of mask requirements, but be respectful of those who may still feel safest wearing their mask in public and business owners who may still ask patrons to don their mask,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement last month about lifting the state’s mask mandate.
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