The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has finally released the data that was behind its recent backtrack on mask recommendations for vaccinated Americans to wear masks in indoor places in COVID-19 hot spots.
In a report published on Friday, the federal health agency detailed a COVID-19 outbreak earlier this month in Barnstable County, Massachusetts, linked to the spread of the Indian ‘Delta’ variant.
Researchers found nearly three-quarters of the infections occurred in people who were fully vaccinated against COVID-19 with either of three shots approved in the U.S. for emergency use.
What’s more, tests showed that immunized people carried about the same viral levels in their noses and throats as unvaccinated people did.
However, there were just four hospitalizations and no fatalities among the fully vaccinated group, showing that the vaccines are very effective against severe disease and death.
A new CDC report detailed 469 cases of COVID-19 linked to an outbreak in Provincetown, Massachusetts between July 3 and July 17, of which 74% were in fully vaccinated people
Only four of the vaccinated people were hospitalized, two of whom had underlying conditions, and there were no deaths showing vaccines are effective even against the Delta variant, which now makes up 83% of all new infections
‘The new data is scary,’ Dr Ali Mokdad, an epidemiologist with the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, told DailyMail.com
‘This is a stubborn virus and this mutation is a game changer.’
For the report, the team looked at COVID-19 cases linked to summer events and large gatherings in Provincetown, on Massachusetts’s Cape Cod, between July 3 and July 17.
Thousands of residents and tourists flocked to the summer town for Independence Day celebrations as well as family vacations, resulting in crowded bars, restaurants, rental homes and more.
On July 10, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health began receiving reports of an increased number of cases linked to the county.
The 14-day rolling average of COVID-19 cases in the county rose from zero cases per 100,000 persons on July 3 to 177 cases per 100,000 persons.
By July 26, 469 cases had been identified, of which 74 percent – or 346 – were among fully vaccinated with at least 14 days since their final dose.
Among this group, 46 percent had received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, 38 percent got the Moderna vaccine and 16 percent got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
The remaining 26 percent, or 84 cases, were among people who were unvaccinated, had only received one dose or whose vaccination status was unknown.
Results showed that vaccinated people who get COVID-19 have same viral levels as the unvaccinated
Nearly 80 percent of those with ‘breakthrough’ infections had signs or symptoms such as cough, fever or a headache.
Of the five COVID-19 patients who were hospitalized, four were fully vaccinated of whom two had underlying conditions.
No deaths were reported in either group.
This is evidence that the Pfizer, Moderna and J&J vaccines are highly effective against severe disease and death.
To measure levels of the virus, CDC researchers looked at a figure known as the cycle threshold (Ct) value.
After an infected person is swabbed, the sample is isolated and has to undergo several amplification cycles to detect if there is any viral RNA, or genetic material.
The Ct value is the number of cycles necessary to spot the virus at which point the machine will stop running. Any number under 30 is considered a high viral load.
There was virtually no difference in the Ct value between vaccinated and unvaccinated people.
Fully vaccinated patients has a Ct value of 22.77 while the unvaccinated group had a Ct value of 21.54.
Ideally, the number among vaccinated people should be higher than 35 and closer to 40, which would indicate low levels of the virus.
‘The findings are troublesome,’ Dr William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist and a professor of preventative medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, told DailyMail.com.
‘Frankly it’s not what I would have expected. II would have frankly expected vaccinated people to have lower viral loads…That makes me uneasy and explains it’s much more contagious than the original Covid virus.’
CDC director Dr Rochelle Walensky, said there are few diseases as transmissible as the Delta variant, which can allegedly be spread to eight or nine people by an infected person. Pictured: Walensky at a hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, July 2021
Dr Peter Chin-Hong, a professor of medicine and infectious disease specialist at the University of California, San Francisco, said the report is like receiving a mix of good news and bad news.
‘The bad news is sure, it seems the Delta variant can cause breakthrough infections in vaccinated people. And the other bad news is they are likely to be able to spread it,’ he told DailyMail.com.
‘The good news is it’s still not causing a lot of illness. No matter how you slice and die the pie, people are not getting really ill if they’ve been vaccinated.
‘There’s a big difference between someone having the virus land on them and someone getting infected, going to the ICU and dying.’
‘The masking recommendation was updated to ensure the vaccinated public would not unknowingly transmit virus to others, including their unvaccinated or immunocompromised loved ones.’
The release of the data comes after The Washington Post obtained and published internal documents from the CDC.
The documents claim the Delta variant has an R0, or is as infectious, as chickenpox or Ebola and that an infected person can spread the virus to eight or nine other people.
The CDC’s mask guidance states that masks only need to be worn in counties with ‘substantial’ or ‘high’ transmission of the virus.
Experts tell DailyMail.com that, at the time, of the outbreak in Provincetown, the county was not experiencing ‘high’ (red) or ‘substantial’ (orange) virus transmission so the CDC mask guidance as it stands today would not have prevented the outbreak
As of Friday, 73.8 percent of counties fall into one of these two categories, up from 69.3 percent the week before.
Chin-Hong said that if the CDC guidelines had been in place at the beginning of June, it would not have prevented the outbreak.
‘If you were in Provincetown…you wouldn’t have needed to wear a mask indoors because that county did not fall into high or substantial transmission,’ he said.
‘There’s not enough nuance and context in the CDC guidance. It’s not a one size fits all Even if you have low prevalence, you can still see transmission.’
Dr Gregory Poland, a Mayo Clinic professor of infectious disease, agreed, saying the CDC recommendations didn’t go far enough to prevent an outbreak in the summer town.
‘The case load in Provincetown started as zero and quickly zoomed to 177 cases per 100,000,’ he told DailyMail.com.
‘If there had been universal masking, then the outbreak would have been prevented.’
Schaffner added that the CDC had to change its mask guidance because of what it learned about the Delta variant.
‘We have to adjust preventions strategies to the characteristics of the virus. We can’t issue guidance and then keep it the same for a year,’ he said.
‘If the wildfire moves in a new direction, you don’t keep working in the old direction to try to put it out. The virus moved in a new direction so we had to change whst we do to fight it.’
Provincetown: How July 4 weekend turned the partygoing playground of New England into the center of a Covid cluster
Located near the northern-most point of Cape Cod, Provincetown – or P-Town – is known for its beaches, artists and as a popular vacation spot for the LGBT+ community.
It has a population of just under 3,000 people year-round, but this raises to as high as 60,000 in the summer months.
Young party-goers descend on the town to make the most of the plethora of bars and clubs found along it’s famous Commercial Street.
Wealthy tourists usually found in nearby cities such a Boston and Manhattan will often use the town as their playground to spend their hard earned cash – or that of their parent’s.
But a week after crowds descended to celebrate the Fourth of July — the holiday President Joe Biden hoped would mark the nation’s liberation from COVID-19 — the manager of the Cape Cod beach town said he was aware of ‘a handful of covid cases among folks who spent time there’
Within weeks, the outbreak rapidly grew until, as of Thursday, 882 people were tied to an outbreak in the town, with 74 per cent of those having had both doses of the vaccine. It was reported that seven people were hospitalised, ABC News reported.
Before this, health officials were assuming that it was rare for a vaccinated person to become infected with the virus and, if they were, they probably wouldn’t infect others.
The assumption was based on studies of an earlier virus, and not the new Delta variant, which was first detected in India earlier this year.
It is indicated that this outbreak is among the new evidence behind the decision to make masks compulsory indoors again, even if they have had both doses of the vaccine.
The owner of Marine Specialties, a long running Army-Navy store, had been leery of officials dropping virus safety mandates ahead of what many expected would be a busy summer season. He even tried to require customers to mask up in his store through the summer, before finally relenting in June.
‘If we’d stuck with masks all along, I don’t think we’d be having this conversation,’ Patrick said, adding that he’s required all his staff to be masked and vaccinated. ‘They’re not entirely fun, but we wore them all last summer, and we didn’t have a single case in Provincetown. Now see where we’re at.’