WHO says fully vaccinated people should continue to wear masks because of Delta variant spread

Plane flight masks
Passengers are seen during the Pobeda Airlines’ tour flight over the Golden Ring of Russia from Vnukovo International Airport on December 20, 2020. Mikhail Japaridze/TASS/Getty Images
  • The WHO says fully vaccinated people should continue to wear face masks in public settings.
  • The statement comes amid concerns over the quickly spreading Delta variant of COVID-19.
  • “People cannot feel safe just because they had the two doses,” a WHO official said.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The World Health Organization on Friday said that people should continue to wear face masks and take other measures meant to curb the spread of COVID-19, raising concerns about the quickly spreading Delta variant of COVID-19.

“People cannot feel safe just because they had the two doses. They still need to protect themselves,” said Dr. Mariangela Simao, the assistant director-general for access to medicines and health products at the WHO, CNBC reported.

“Vaccine alone won’t stop community transmission,” she added. “People need to continue to use masks consistently, be in ventilated spaces, hand hygiene … the physical distance, avoid crowding. This still continues to be extremely important, even if you’re vaccinated when you have a community transmission ongoing.”

Masks have become less common in the US as it has returned largely to pre-pandemic norms following the ongoing vaccine rollout that began late last year.

In updated guidance, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in May said it wasn’t necessary for fully vaccinated people to wear their masks in most indoor or outdoor settings. All 50 states quickly fell in line with the new guidance, eliminating mask requirements in most settings and scaling back other restrictions meant to prevent the spread of the virus.

Masks are still required on airplanes and public transportation in the US.

According to data from the CDC, just over 53% of all people in the US are at least partially vaccinated against COVID-19. About 46% of people are fully vaccinated against the disease.

The Delta variant accounts for at least 20% of new infections in the US, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the longtime director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Fauci said Wednesday that the Delta variant posted the “greatest threat” to eliminating COVID-19 in the US.

The threat of the variant is greatest among communities with low vaccination rates, experts have warned.

As Insider previously noted, it doesn’t appear that the variant causes more severe cases of COVID-19, but it does appear to make the virus more transmissible. About 40 to 50% of Delta variant cases in Israel, which is seeing a surge, are among vaccinated people, Chezy Levy, the director-general of Israel’s health ministry said earlier this week.

Still, the vaccine appears to be effective in preventing serious illness and death. Countries facing outbreaks of the variant with low vaccination rates have seen a spike in their COVID-19 death rate that hasn’t been seen in countries with high vaccination rates.

The US has a positivity rate of 1.9% over the last week, according to data analyzed by Johns Hopkins University, nearly the lowest since the pandemic began (the lowest positivity rate was 1.8% and was recorded Wednesday).

There were about 11,659 new cases of COVID-19 diagnosed each day last week, according to the Hopkins data.