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As delta variant spreads, here's what health officials have to say about vaccinated people wearing masks

The W.H.O. suggested it, but national, state and local health leaders say it's not necessary yet.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — There’s mixed messaging when it comes to masks. The World Health Organization suggesting even people who are vaccinated should mask up because of the delta variant.

In the United States, one in every five COVID-19 cases is the delta variant, which doctors say is a more severe and contagious strain.

“There are places around the world that are surging, and so as the W.H.O. makes those recommendations, they do so in that context,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said.

The CDC is sticking to its guidance that fully vaccinated people can safely go mask-free in most places.

“We have three vaccines that we know are safe and effective, we have two-thirds of the adult population that is fully vaccinated, and really quite protected from the variants that we have circulating here in the united states,” Walensky said.

Los Angeles County followed the W.H.O. and is again requiring masks indoors because of the level of virus in the community.

The delta variant is in the Carolinas, but health officials say people who aren't vaccinated yet are most at risk. There are no broad mask mandates in the Carolinas, but it's still recommended unvaccinated people wear one in public.

South Carolina officials following the CDC for now.

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“I think we'd have to see what happens here in South Carolina where our numbers go and whether or not face masks would be something that would be useful to recommend more broadly,” Dr. Johnathan Knoche with SCDHEC said. “I think time will tell what happens.”

In Mecklenburg County, less than half of the population is fully vaccinated, and the longer it takes to get more people protected, the more likely it is we'll see a spike in cases.

“We don’t want to backslide," Gibbie Harris, Mecklenburg County Health Director, said. "We don't want to go back to wearing masks all the time, we don't want to go back to things being closed down so again the answer is vaccines and we need people stepping up for that."

Despite the CDC’s recommendation, several Charlotte-area colleges and universities are requiring masks in the fall.

Currently, Johnson C. Smith University, Johnson & Wales, Lenoir-Rhyne and Livingstone College will require masks indoors on campus.

RELATED: Johnson C. Smith University will require students to get vaccinated

“As we know, the delta variant has picked up and at the end of the day we want our students learning in a healthy and safe environment,” Davida L. Haywood, the Vice President for Student Affairs at JCSU, said.

The university is also requiring all students and staff members to get the COVID-19 shot.

“It is important to try and maintain a safe and healthy environment and some might see it as overkill, but we also know we have made provisions for those who want to be exempt from the vaccination,” Haywood said.

Younger students may have to pack their masks too, especially because those under 12 aren't eligible to get vaccinated yet.

RELATED: CDC: COVID-19 vaccine still recommended for kids 12 and over, after study on rare heart disease

“I do anticipate that we'll be masking in the fall, especially in the younger age groups but possibly across the board in our schools,” Harris said.

Vaccines will help keep the delta variant at bay so health officials stress it should be a top priority during summer break.

“Teachers, faculty and young people should get their shots now so they have enough time to get their second Pfizer or Moderna shot in a few weeks and give their body enough time to mount its full immune response before they start back to school,” Dr. Knoche said.

No vaccine is 100% effective and health officials say they are seeing breakthrough cases. They do expect many of those cases to soon be the delta variant.

RELATED: Yes, a fully vaccinated person exposed to the Delta variant could transmit COVID-19 to others

People who are vaccinated but feel more comfortable wearing a mask in certain situations should do so.

Chloe Leshner: Contact Chloe Leshner at cleshner@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram. 

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