Dr. Anthony Fauci said Monday that new guidance ​​from the American Academy of Pediatrics that recommends everyone in schools over the age of 2 wear a mask to protect against the spread of COVID-19 is a “reasonable thing to do.”

“When you have a degree of viral dynamics in the community and you have a substantial proportion of the population that is unvaccinated, you really want to go the extra step, the extra mile, to make sure that there is not a lot of transmission, even breakthrough infections among vaccinated individuals,” Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser on COVID-19, told CNN.

The academy on Monday released guidance supporting in-person learning while recommending universal masking, regardless of vaccination status, marking a more strict position than that of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which allows local entities to make their own judgments and guidelines. 

Fauci admitted the contrasting stances could cause some confusion but he believes “the American Academy of Pediatrics is a thoughtful group. They analyze the situation, and if they feel that that’s the way to go, I think that is a reasonable thing to do.”

The AAP said it is recommending masks because a significant number of students are not yet eligible for vaccinations, which are not yet approved for children under the age of 12. Further, it said that masks reduce the threat of COVID-19 for unvaccinated people and said it is difficult to enforce mask policies for people who aren’t vaccinated. 

Fauci also warned that the hospitalizations and deaths will continue to grow with the highly transmissible delta variant continuing to spread nationwide. 

“This is a virus that has now shown us that it has a very strong capability of more efficiently spreading from person to person than the previous prototype viruses that we’ve experienced,” said Fauci. “For the unvaccinated, that means not only getting infected, that means some proportion of the people who were infected will get seriously ill, requiring hospitalizations and in some cases unfortunately death.”

But for vaccinated individuals, the shots are still protecting “to the tune of 90% or more” against hospitalizations and severe illness or death, said Fauci. 

Meanwhile, Canada is reporting that 71.5% of its total population is partially vaccinated, compared to America’s 56%, and Fauci said that’s because Canada doesn’t have the divisiveness that the United States has on the basis of ideology and politics. 

“Political differences are totally understandable and in a natural part of the process in any country, but when it comes to a public health issue, in which you’re in the middle of a deadly pandemic and the common enemy in the virus, it just doesn’t make any sense to essentially disregard or don’t pay attention to what is obvious,” said Fauci. “If you look at numbers, they tell you something very important, that 99.5% of all of the deaths due to COVID-19 in this country are among unvaccinated people and 0.5% are among vaccinated people. That is a public health issue. That is not political, not ideology, it is a public health issue.”

Fauci also warned that unvaccinated people could be in danger while traveling because of the high risk of getting infected and being severely ill. 

“That risk is diminished if you’re vaccinated, and it is a risk on the part of people depending on the purpose of the travel is,” said Fauci. “People will have to make up their mind about the risk/benefit ratio and knowing that if you’re vaccinated, your level of protection is high.”

Meanwhile, the TSA’s mask requirement for air travel is set to end in September, and Fauci said it’s too soon to determine if it will actually be safe to travel without a face covering. 

“I would hope that as more people get vaccinated, and I hope we continue to have a steady flow of people getting vaccinated, that things do improve considerably,” he said. “If they go the opposite direction, then I think you need to reconsider those things.”

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