It's the CDC's COVID-transmission rate map. And a warning about where not to travel.

The CDC has released its new guidance on masking, recommending that all unvaccinated people continue to wear masks indoors in public places, and that everyone, even those who've been fully vaccinated, mask up indoors in public in areas with "substantial" or "high" levels of COVID-19 transmission. Not sure what that level is where you live? The CDC has a county-by county map of community spread levels, updated daily, for you to check — and the odds are, unfortunately, that your county is on it, like nearly two-thirds of US counties.

As we mentioned earlier, the main reason for the new guidance is new data showing that vaccinated people who are infected with the Delta variant have a similar "viral load" as unvaccinated patients. So while it's still the case that fully vaccinated folks have a far lower risk of serious illness or death, the potential that they might spread the virus may turn out to be higher than appeared to be the case with the previous versions of the virus. More people masking up in areas where there's more transmission will help keep the Delta variant in check, depending on whether state and local authorities and businesses follow the new guidelines.

Should we have pushed back in May when the CDC first said fully vaccinated folks didn't need masks? Probably, especially given the entirely predictable result that so many unvaccinated people decided it was the all-clear to go maskless too.

The CDC had the vaccine science right, but probably not the social science, because the honor system just plain didn't work. That's also why the CDC is also recommending that all students, staff, and teachers in public schools wear masks when schools open this fall, regardless of vaccination status. The other new change: If you're vaccinated but have unvaccinated kids or immunocompromised people in your household, you should mask up indoors in public places to protect them, as well.


Reaction to the new guidelines has been about what you'd expect. Back in March, even as he announced the goal of making it safe enough for people to gather together for Fourth of July barbecues, Joe Biden warned that with any goal, "a lot can happen. Conditions can change. The scientists have made clear that things may get worse again." With the Delta variant spreading rapidly among the unvaccinated population, and an as-yet unknown rate among those who've been vaccinated, Biden endorsed the updated guidance in a statement Tuesday, calling it "another step on our journey to defeating this virus." Biden urged Americans to follow the CDC guidance in those areas with "substantial" or "high" community spread, and said he will do the same when he visits such areas.

Biden also pointed out that the CDC's announcement makes clear that vaccinations are "the most important protection we have against the Delta variant," and said that he will announce on Thursday the "next steps in our effort to get more Americans vaccinated."

Meanwhile, the Usual Assholes did their Usual Asshole stuff. At Tuesday's White House press briefing, Fox News wad Peter Doocy did his usual thing of being a dumbass. The dipshittery came in a couple of parts, with Doocy first wondering why Biden said in May that "If you've been fully vaccinated, you no longer need to wear a mask," if there were a possibility that wouldn't remain true forever and ever. Press Secretary Jen Psaki correctly replied that we're "dealing with an evolving virus where there's no playbook and no historic precedent," and the virus we faced in May has been replaced by the far more transmissible Delta variant.

Doocy then went straight for the bad faith framing, asking howcome if you people say vaccines work, then howcome vaccinated people will need to wear masks like unvaccinated people, howcome?

While Psaki did say the decision was driven by data, we wish she'd spelled that out a bit more emphatically, like pointing out that the vaccines are highly effective in protecting from severe illness or death, but when vaccinated people are exposed to a lot of people who refuse to protect themselves from a highly contagious virus variant, you're still going to have breakthrough infections.

Then it was time for the Republican governors to weigh in and vow they would never, NEVER do anything so monstrous as protecting people in their states. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds claimed, without evidence, that the CDC guidance was "not grounded in reality or common sense," and said she was "proud" that Iowa had passed laws to "protect Iowans against unnecessary government mandates in our schools and local governments," by which she meant a state law that forbids mask mandates by cities and by school administrations at any level. Please, Gov. Reynolds, give yourself credit! You're protecting Iowans from necessary health measures, too!

Pro-virus Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis hasn't yet spoken directly about the CDC guidance, but his press secretary, Christina Pushaw, told Fox News the recommendation was "not based on science," and immediately demonstrated what the DeSantis administration thinks of science. Ignoring the real science on masks (they work, and N95 masks work even better) and downplaying the deadly spike in Delta variant cases, Pushaw claimed the Biden administration "wants to be perceived as 'doing something' during a seasonal infection surge, even if their policy does not necessarily make people safer." Oh, Christina, Pshaw!

Oh, yes, and as that Miami Herald article mentions, DeSantis also had a closed-door meeting Monday with four doctors he scraped up from somewhere who all agree with him that masks are just terrible for kids. One of 'em claimed that "Masking children is child abuse." So there's that, too.

For real idiocy, though, you need look no further than the rightwing thought leaders, like known irritant Ben Shapiro. He proclaimed yesterday morning that there's no way in HELL the CDC would force him to do something the CDC wasn't and isn't recommending.

I got the vaccine. My wife got the vaccine. My parents got the vaccine. My small kids are small kids. None of us are masking in our own f***ing home and the CDC, with its ever-changing pseudo-scientific nonsense, can shove it.

Here's the thing, Ben: The CDC isn't recommending anyone wear masks at home. You're right — unless a family is caring for someone who's infected, it really would be absurd for vaccinated people to wear masks at home. Good thing the CDC isn't calling for that at all!

Shapiro posted his vow of eternal defiance at 11 AM Eastern, and then, after a full day of people calling him a dipshit who's spreading dangerous misinformation, followed up at 9:28 Eastern with a brilliant retort: Without comment, he posted a screenshot of the CDC's summary of the guidelines, with one line highlighted.

Here's the passage Shapiro quotes, as if it were damning, with the highlighted part in bold. We've included parts his screenshot chopped off.

To reduce their risk of becoming infected with the Delta variant and potentially spreading it to others, CDC recommends that fully vaccinated people:

• Wear a mask in public indoor settings if they are in an area of substantial or high transmission,

— Fully vaccinated people might choose to mask regardless of the level of transmission, particularly if they or someone in their household is immunocompromised or at increased risk for severe disease, or if someone in their household is unvaccinated. People who are at increased risk for severe disease include older adults and those who have certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, overweight or obesity, and heart conditions.

Funny, though, everyone on Twitter immediately started asking poor Ben if his house is a "public indoor setting" (we certainly hope not), pointing out that "might choose to" is hardly an order at gunpoint (and anyway it still refers to "public indoor settings," not his house), and accusing him of misrepresenting the CDC recommendation. As if he'd ever do such a thing.

Still, Shapiro does raise an interesting question: Should the responsibility of warning him that he's in danger of being crushed by that enormous straw man fall to the CDC, the Agriculture Department, or perhaps OSHA, since spreading dangerous bullshit is how he makes a living?

[CDC Mask Recommendation / CDC COVID Data Tracker / White House / Miami Herald]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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