Delta variant puts current mask guidance into question

The contagious Delta COVID-19 strain made the World Health Organization and Los Angeles County health officials recommend vaccinated people putting back on their masks while indoors now, but the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said their nationwide guidance remains the same: no masks for vaccinated people.

The different guidelines don’t shift anything for Florida or the country as a whole, but some public health experts say the situation highlights what may need to change soon.

Virologist Dr. Michael Teng with USF Health said the WHO’s message hits a different audience abroad.

"There’s this delta variant that is more transmissible has become the dominant variant in the UK for example. It’s a little bit different rules," said Dr. Teng.

A more contagious virus means more potential for vaccinated people to get infected as a breakthrough case. But when it comes to masks, Dr. Teng said there’s not enough data yet on vaccinated people spreading COVID-19.

"I think if you’re infected, you’re going to be able to make some virus. The vaccine keeps those levels lower than in people who are not vaccinated. So probably less transmission but probably not no transmission," said Dr. Teng.

In the states, the contagious delta strain is not the most common yet, but it’s growing.

"Southwest Missouri, Arkansas, Utah, Nevada, Wyoming, these are places where case rates have gone up tremendously," said Teng.

Some public health experts like Dr. Teng say regional mask guidance may be a better way to go as the delta variant spreads.

"There are differences in vaccination rates in different parts of the country. There’s differences in transmission rates in different parts of the country," said Teng. "I think it’s time to start thinking about kind of regional if not more localized guidance."

The delta strain is also not common in Florida or the U.S., but scientists said it’s a matter of time and that the country’s mask guidance may change because of it.