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CDC is leaving it as much as states to set pointers for masks, the director says

Rochelle Walensky, director of the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), takes off a protective mask during a Senate Fund Subcommittee hearing in Washington, DC on Wednesday, May 19, 2021.

Greg Nash | Bloomberg | Getty Images

CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Wednesday the U.S. agency was leaving state and local health officials to set guidelines for wearing masks, even after the World Health Organization urged fully vaccinated people to continue the practice.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have “always said that local policymakers need to make guidelines for their local area,” Walensky said during an interview on NBC’s TODAY. She added that the agency’s guidelines generally recommend that vaccinated individuals should not wear masks.

“There are areas in this country where about a third of the people are vaccinated, they have low vaccination rates,” said Walensky. “There are areas where they are more likely to get the disease if people are not vaccinated. In those areas we always said, please look, make suggestions.”

She added, “If you are vaccinated you are safe from the variants circulating here in the US.”

The CDC director’s comments come days after WHO officials urged fully vaccinated people to continue wearing masks, maintain social distance, and practice other pandemic safety measures as the highly contagious Delta variant is rapidly spreading around the world .

Delta, now present in at least 92 countries including the United States, is expected to become the predominant variant of the disease worldwide, according to the WHO. In the US, the prevalence of the strain doubles roughly every two weeks.

WHO officials said Friday that they are urging fully vaccinated people to continue to “play it safe” as much of the world remains unvaccinated and highly contagious variants like Delta spread in many countries, causing outbreaks.

“People can’t feel safe just because they got the two doses. They still need to protect themselves,” said Dr. Mariangela Simao, WHO Deputy Director General for Access to Medicines and Health Products, during a press conference.

The WHO’s comments were a departure from the CDC, stating that fully vaccinated Americans can be maskless in most environments, causing widespread confusion.

Walensky said Wednesday that WHO is making recommendations for a world population, adding that many regions of the world are still unvaccinated.

“When WHO makes these recommendations, they are doing so in this context,” she said.

Although many states have lifted most of their mask restrictions, places like Mississippi recommend that residents continue to wear masks indoors even after they are fully vaccinated.

Delta is currently the predominant variant in Mississippi, and only 31% of the state’s eligible population are vaccinated, state health officials said in a phone call late Tuesday. About 96% of new Covid cases are unvaccinated people, they added.

– CNBC’s Rich Mendez contributed to this report.

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