U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy suggested Wednesday that fully vaccinated individuals consider wearing a mask outside as an "extra step" to protecting others from the new delta variant of the coronavirus.
Appearing on MSNBC, Murthy told anchor Andrea Mitchell that a person who has a lot of contact with unvaccinated individuals, including children not eligible to take a vaccine, should be "extra cautious" by wearing a mask indoors and outdoors despite updated Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance that vaccinated people need only to wear a mask indoors in high transmission areas.
"So the people that we’re most concerned about are the unvaccinated," Murthy said when Mitchell asked him about potential spread of the virus between vaccinated people. "For example, if you happen to have a lot of interaction with folks who are unvaccinated, let's say you’re a parent like me who has young children at home who are not vaccinated, that’s a circumstance where we’re being extra cautious and wearing that mask even if you’re fully vaccinated, wearing it outside, when you’re in indoor public locations, is an extra step to protecting those at home."
"I want to emphasize though that if you are vaccinated the likelihood of having a breakthrough infection is still low because, again, the vaccines are working to help prevent infection, particularly serious infection. But in the unusual event that a breakthrough does happen, we know transmission can take place," he added. "So that's why, especially when you have a lot of virus circulating in a community, it's important to take that extra step, go that extra mile, wear that mask in indoor settings, outside the house, so you don’t contribute to transmission."
The CDC released its updated mask guidance on Tuesday to include fully vaccinated people wearing a mask indoors in areas with high transmission rates of the virus, despite telling Fox News last week that it had "no plans" to update its recommendations on masks.
The reversal, which included recommendations for universal making in schools, prompted swift backlash from multiple Republican senators and governors, as well as some media outlets who described the messaging by the CDC as "confusing."
The CDC has yet to release the coronavirus data it cited in reversing its recommendations on masks.