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Making Sense of the Updated CDC Guidelines

Updated: Aug 9, 2021

As disheartening as it is to read that the CDC has reinstated old mask guidelines, it’s important that we all understand exactly why such measures have been put in place.

With climbing coronavirus infection rates, new information about the Delta variant, a threatening fall lockdown, and new variants looming in the future, wearing a mask indoors again doesn’t seem all that unreasonable.

girls in mask, coronavirus, covid-19, CDC

New CDC recommendations:

On Tuesday, July 27th, the CDC released new recommendations regarding masks for everyone, regardless of vaccination status. We have summed them up below:

  1. Fully vaccinated people should again begin to wear masks in public indoor spaces in places with high COVID-19 transmission rates.

  2. Everyone in grade school should wear masks, including teachers, staff, students, and visitors, regardless of vaccination status.

  3. If vaccinated persons have come into contact with someone who has or is suspected of having COVID-19, they must wear a mask in public indoor settings for 14 days after exposure or after a negative test result.

  4. Fully vaccinated people must isolate if they have tested positive for COVID-19.

  5. Everyone must get tested if experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.

These guidelines come out along with the CDC’s updated COVID-19 tracker. This dynamic map will allow you to see risk levels throughout the country and in your county. It also ranks US counties on transmission levels.

  • Substantial transmission is defined as 50-100 cases per 100,000 residents over a 7 day period.

  • High transmission is defined as more than 100 cases per 100,000 residents over a 7 day period.

In some parts of the United States, local health officials are over 300 cases per 100,000 residents in a week.

Ever-changing CDC guidelines?

While it’s easy to become frustrated with the ever-changing guidelines and recommendations by the CDC, it’s important to understand that such alterations are happening due to the novel nature of COVID-19 and its variants. COVID-19 is unlike any virus scientists have seen before. And unfortunately, it is not as predictable as many health officials had hoped.

For example, while vaccinated people were thought to not be able to spread the “original” COVID-19 variant, new research is demonstrating that the fully vaccinated can still spread the Delta variant. This new research found people infected with Delta have the same viral load, regardless of vaccination status. A higher viral load equates to a higher risk of transmissibility- meaning that vaccinated people can spread Delta just like someone who isn’t vaccinated.

For some health officials, this news isn’t all that surprising. As, Delta COVID-19 has a viral load 1000 times higher than the original coronavirus strand. Further, Delta COVID-19 is detectable earlier than the original, as it replicates much faster in the human body- hence the higher viral load.

Moreover, due to uneven vaccination rates throughout the country, the CDC can only offer recommendations that serve the majority of the population. And, the vast majority of Americans live in regions with a high risk of infection:

  • 98% of Americans live in counties where less than 70% of the population is immune.

  • 83% of Americans live in counties with less than 60% immunity.

Further, there are around 1,000 counties in the U.S. that have less than 30% of residents vaccinated. These counties are mostly located in the Southeast and Midwest.

While herd immunity was once placed around 50-67% immunity, that number has now changed. Delta COVID-19 and its higher transmissibility rate have raised the threshold much higher than before. With children under 12 unable to be vaccinated, and nearly half of Americans refusing the vaccine, it is unlikely that the United States will ever reach herd immunity.

Why should I care if I’m vaccinated?

Yes, if you are vaccinated the likelihood of having a symptomatic infection is very, very low. But beyond the danger of spreading the Delta variant to your more-susceptible or unvaccinated friends, neighbors, and family members, there are several reasons vaccinated people should be more than willing to follow the CDC’s new guidelines:

Risk of cognitive decline:

Research from England has suggested that ALL coronavirus infections, regardless of the presence of symptoms, can cause cognitive decline. Though cognitive decline is much more drastic for those hospitalized from their infection, people across all symptom statuses still face cognitive decline.

This cognitive decline goes hand in hand with other symptoms of chronic COVID-19, which is defined as “persistent symptoms and/or delayed complications of SARS-CoV-2 infection beyond 4 weeks from the onset of symptoms.” Some researchers point to symptoms of chronic COVID-19 as evidence of mitochondrial damage. Research has already demonstrated that COVID-19 “hijack” and manipulate mitochondria in the host cell in an effort to evade host immunity. If COVID-19 is in the brain, the cells it impacts will lead to neurological damage- as mentioned above. These effects will last far longer than the virus is actually inhibiting the body, as the mitochondrial damage will already have been done. To read more about chronic COVID-19 and the brain, click here.

Predictions of Fall 2021 lockdowns:

Many countries where Delta COVID-19 is the most dominant variant, like Australia, South Africa, and countries in Asia, have already reintroduced country-wide curfews and other preventative measures. The U.S. has been slow to instate such measures, and we can expect them to come again in the fall.

Many health officials were hoping that the coronavirus would act like other respiratory illnesses, like colds and the influenza, and suffer from a decline in cases in the summer months. However, as evident by rising cases, this did not happen. Which is very bad news for the upcoming, cold months. Human behavior will largely drive cases even higher as it gets colder, as people shelter together from the cold in indoor gatherings. Further, as many businesses plan to bring people back into the office, there will likely be another surge. The colder months also bring holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, which causes many Americans to travel and spread infection.

Fear of new, more deadly variants:

Many public health officials are already warning of the next COVID-19 variant. It would not be preposterous to expect a future variant that could render the vaccines ineffective. In fact, some researchers speculate that it would only take “a few” more mutations for the virus to evade all vaccines.

Already, investigators in Chile have concluded that the Lambda variant is not only more transmissible than the original COVID-19, but could also potentially evade the vaccines. The researchers have suggested that this new variant can completely circumvent COVID-19 antibodies, which rendered the Chinese COVID-19 vaccine, Sinovac-CoronaVac, ineffective. Sinovac-CoronaVac is not an mRNA vaccine, rather it uses killed viral particles to expose the body’s immune system to the virus without serious threat. The mRNA vaccines like Pfizer and Moderna mimic the spike protein of the original coronavirus, so antibodies can be created to target that specific spike protein. The spike protein of the Lambda variant has mutated enough to evade detection by the Sinovac-CoronaVac vaccine, but thankfully, one study has suggested that the mRNA vaccines should still be effective.

To give you an idea of just how deadly this new variant is, we can look at Peru, the country of origin for the Lambda mutation. Peru has the higher COVID-19 death rate of any country in the world, twice as high as the country with the next highest death rate. In Peru, around 600 for every 100,000 Covid-19 infections result in death. To put this into perspective, the United States, at its worst, saw 186 for every 100,000 infections result in death.

The Lambda variant has been the most common COVID-19 variant in Peru since April. It has already spread to around 30 other countries, including the United Kingdom. On July 25th, the first case of Lambda variant was seen in the United States- in the Houston Methodist Hospital.

Looking forward:

The best news regarding the Delta variant is that death rates have not risen by much in the United States. Further, COVID-19 vaccine booster shots may not be a distant reality.

Some health professionals in the United States are already going to pharmacies in other states or counties, where they have no vaccination record, to receive a third vaccine shot. But many researchers report that the research behind booster shots is still too early to definitively answer if they will offer more protection. However, Pfizer has reported that a third dose of the vaccine will boost antibodies in the blood against many variants, including Delta. Israel has already begun offering a booster shot to citizens over the age of 60.

Further, Pfizer has created a pill that will stop the infection and can be taken from the comfort of your own home. Pfizer’s COVID-19 oral antiviral drug is also known as PF-07321332. The drug is a protease inhibitor and has demonstrated “potent in vitro (in a culture or test tube) anti-viral activity against SARS-CoV-2”, according to researchers at Pfizer. PF-07321332 plays an important role in finally exterminating COVID-19 entirely. Researchers speculate that both a vaccine for preventing infection and a form of targeted treatment for those infected with COVID-19 will be required.

Unlike the vaccines currently available for COVID-19, this pill is meant to be taken after becoming infected with COVID-19. Moreover, the only treatment for those currently infected with COVID-19 largely consists of laboratory-created antibodies. These treatments can be expensive and difficult to administer. PF-07321332, on the other hand, works like TheraFlu, halting symptoms and hindering the virus’s ability to replicate within your cells. As stated above, this drug could potentially rid the need to go to the hospital from COVID-19, as you could take PF-07321332 from home after receiving a prescription.

In the meantime, you should still be working to optimize your health in order to protect yourself from the future, potentially more dangerous strains of COVID-19.

The Johnson Center recommends a multi-faceted plan to obtain optimal health- encompassing biological and genomic testing, nutritional supplementation, and dietary and wellness plans. To learn more, click here. If you have any more questions about your path to optimal health, email our office at or call 276-235-3205.

The Johnson Center for Health services patients in-person in our Blacksburg and Virginia Beach locations. We also offer telemedicine for residents of Virginia and North Carolina!