ELMIRA, N.Y. (WETM) – Just weeks after the Center for Disease Control said fully vaccinated individuals could ditch the mask indoors, the agency reversed course to recommend everyone – even those who are vaccinated – wear a mask inside in certain parts of the country.

The new guidance from the CDC comes amid a rise in COVID-19 infections, a result of the Delta variant, which is now the dominant strain in the United States. According to new data, the Delta variant is highly contagious largely because people infected with it can carry up to 1,000 times more virus in their nasal passages than those infected with the original strain.

The CDC uses two measures to group U.S. counties into four levels of community transmission, which include the number of new cases per 100,000 residents and the percent of Covid tests that are positive over the past week. The Twin Tier’s is currently not categorized as having a high transmission rate.

Local health experts told 18 News that fully vaccinated individuals do not have to wear a mask indoors because of the regions low transmission rate.

“I’m very concerned we could get to that [orange or red] level,” Steuben County Public Health Director Darlene Smith said. “The longer the delta variant can exist and live, the higher the risk for it to mutate to a degree into other variants and to a degree where our vaccines will no longer be effective.”

The unvaccinated remain the most vulnerable, as they continue to make up the vast majority of hospitalizations and deaths. Health experts believe fully vaccinated individuals only represent a “very small” percentage of cases and continue to emphasize the vaccine is the best weapon against the virus.

“If more people were vaccinated and if those people who weren’t vaccinated consistently abided by the regulation that they wear masks, we probably would not be having this conversation.”

Steuben County Public Health Director Darlene Smith

“The problem is unvaccinated people are incubated for this infection to mutate further and all it does it prolong this misery that we’ve been in now for 18 months,” Dr. Richard Terri, Dean of the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, said. “Getting vaccinated will stop this dead in its tracks.”