South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem said that her state won’t impose a mask mandate following a guidance reversal by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that is now urging some fully vaccinated people to wear facial coverings indoors.
“The CDC shifts their position AGAIN,” Noem wrote in a post on Twitter. “South Dakota’s cases remain low. If you’re worried about the virus, you’re free to get vaccinated, wear a mask, or stay at home. But we won’t be mandating anything.”
“And the CDC’s inconsistency doesn’t help the American people,” the Republican governor said, referring to the agency’s recent masking policy shift, which came about 2 1/2 months after the CDC announced that fully vaccinated persons didn’t need to wear masks indoors because of the protection provided by the vaccines.
Noem’s remarks come after the CDC on July 27 revised its guidance on masking, citing the threat of the Delta variant, with the agency now recommending fully vaccinated people to mask up indoors in public places if they’re in areas of “substantial or high transmission.”
According to the CDC, much of the country falls into that category, with one of the exceptions being the Upper Midwest, which includes South Dakota.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the CDC, told reporters on a call July 27 that new data about outbreaks from several states and other countries “indicate that on rare occasions, some vaccinated people infected with the Delta variant after vaccination may be contagious and spread the virus to others.”
The research shows that vaccinated people who contract the Delta variant have a similar viral load as unvaccinated people, and that vaccinated people can transmit the variant.
Walensky added that “this new science is worrisome and warrants an update to our recommendations.”
“Unlike the Alpha variant that we had back in May where we didn’t believe that if you were vaccinated, you could transmit further, this is different now with the Delta variant,” Walensky said.
The Delta variant of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, the pathogen that causes COVID-19, has been listed as a “variant of concern” by the CDC, which considers it to be more transmissible and potentially more resistant to vaccines.
While the CDC’s guidance isn’t binding, it’s closely followed by health departments, businesses, and other entities across the country, which often calibrate enforceable policies according to the agency’s recommendations.
Mask-wearing amid the COVID-19 pandemic has become a hot-button issue, with some questioning the efficacy of facial coverings and others opposing mandates on grounds of personal liberty. Advocates tend to have taken a better-safe-than-sorry approach in the face of underpowered efficacy studies on mask-wearing, while generally viewing mandates as a minor inconvenience that helps protect people who are prone to serious complications if they get infected.
There are dozens of circumstantial studies suggesting that masks work to stem the spread of the CCP virus, although there has been just one randomized-control trial during the pandemic, carried out in Denmark. The researchers found that wearing a “surgical mask when outside the home among others did not reduce, at conventional levels of statistical significance, incident SARS-CoV-2 infection compared with no mask recommendation.”
Senators in New Jersey recently held a hearing to explore the efficacy and negative effects of mask mandates in schools for children, concluding that the scientific evidence doesn’t support such mandates.
Zachary Stieber contributed to this report.