(NEW YORK) -- Health experts, including an influential group of pediatricians, are pushing back on federal guidance that vaccinated Americans can go without masks, warning that the honor system has failed to keep many people safe in the face of the delta variant.
The American Academy of Pediatrics on Monday called for schools to enforce universal masking mandates because so many kids won’t be protected by fall and schools have no way of verifying COVID vaccine status yet.
"AAP recommends universal masking because a significant portion of the student population is not yet eligible for vaccines, and masking is proven to reduce transmission of the virus and to protect those who are not vaccinated,” the AAP wrote in a statement. “Many schools will not have a system to monitor vaccine status of students, teachers and staff, and some communities overall have low vaccination uptake where the virus may be circulating more prominently."
People who are fully vaccinated – a term used to describe a person two weeks after their last shot – are still considered safe from serious illness or death, even if they are exposed to the delta variant. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 99.5 percent of hospitalizations are people who weren’t immunized.
Because vaccinated people are considered to be safe, the CDC has said immunized adults and teens can go without a mask, including inside schools.
The public health agency has noted, however, that local officials should still decide to enforce mask mandates if COVID cases climb and vaccination numbers are low. And the CDC notes that schools can still embrace universal masking if they can’t verify vaccinations or have large numbers of students too young to qualify.
But it’s this approach – allowing states and local communities to decide and essentially putting Americans on the honor system – that’s in question after COVID cases have risen in all 50 states.
Dr. Jerome Adams, who was Surgeon General under President Donald Trump, said he made a mistake early on in the pandemic urging people not to mask up because he feared a shortage of masks for health care workers. Adams said he’s afraid the CDC is making another mistake now by not putting more pressure on everyone to wear a mask.
"Instead of vax it OR mask it, the emerging data suggests CDC should be advising to vax it AND mask it in areas with cases and positivity- until we see numbers going back down again," Adams tweeted.
"CDC was well intended, but the message was misinterpreted, premature, & wrong. Let’s fix it," he added.
Instead of vax it OR mask it, the emerging data suggests CDC should be advising to vax it AND mask it in areas with ⬆️ cases and positivity- until we see numbers going back down again.— Jerome Adams (@JeromeAdamsMD) July 17, 2021
CDC was well intended, but the message was misinterpreted, premature, & wrong. Let’s fix it.
The Biden administration though is in a tough spot. The CDC had been under extraordinary pressure earlier this year to show skeptical Americans the benefits of vaccination, including being able to go without a mask and not having to quarantine after being exposed.
And so far, number studies have shown that all three vaccines – Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and Moderna – protect people against all known variants. The vaccines also are shown to provide more durable protection than a natural infection.
Also, any federal mandate for vaccines or masks would no doubt trigger a swift backlash among conservatives.
Responding to the former Surgeon General calling on CDC to bring back masks, conservative firebrand Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas tweeted: "No. No. No. Hell no."
For his part, President Joe Biden on Friday suggested he wasn’t worried about the science of the vaccinations and masks, only the people who were choosing to ignore it.
"Look, the only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated," said Biden.