face mask signs
© Anthony Behar/Sipa USA
The CDC findings prompted the agency to change its recommendations on masks indoors.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reportedly altered its mask guidance after a report found the Delta COVID-19 variant spreads as easily as chickenpox, possibly even among the vaccinated — but critics have ripped it as misleading and based on weak data.

The widely ridiculed change in mask policy followed an internal CDC presentation, first obtained by the Washington Post, that claimed that it was time to "acknowledge the war has changed."

The leaked report, compiled of several different studies, claimed that the variant causes more severe illness among the unvaccinated and is more transmissible than Ebola, flu and even the common cold, regardless of vaccination status.

The Delta strain is now the most dominant one in the US.

"Delta variant vaccine breakthrough cases may be as transmissible as unvaccinated cases," the report claims.

The unidentified authors insisted that it was now time for experts to stop claiming that breakthrough infections were "rare" — even arguing that "universal masking is essential" given the spread amongst those vaccinated.

The presentation was based largely on unpublished research, The Washington Post noted — with warnings in large red type also noting that it was "preliminary data, subject to change."

It was quickly panned by critics, who noted the vague data used in raising the alarm.

"Democrats are basing their new mask mandate on a 100-person study from India," tweeted Republican leader Kevin McCarthy.

"It didn't pass peer-review and uses vaccines that aren't approved in America. This is the 'science' they are using to try to control Americans!" he wrote.

The presentation did mention studies in India, although it also referenced research of a community spread in Massachusetts, as well as work in Los Angeles, Scotland, Singapore and Israel.

Texas Rep. Dan Crenshaw also insisted that "the CDC has presented no data showing vaccinated people are spreading COVID infections," despite the suggestions in the report.

"If you're vaccinated, you have a better chance of getting hit by lightning than dying of COVID," the former SEAL tweeted.

"Our government, now considering lockdowns, has lost its effing mind," he said.

Enlarge ImageOne of the CDC's slides estimates there are 35,000 symptomatic infections per week among 162 million vaccinated Americans.PA Images via Getty Images

Fellow Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz on Friday also tweeted that "the CDC's willingness to twist facts for political expediency is stunning."

He shared a video of him asking if there has "ever been an institution in American public life that has more discredited itself more rapidly than the CDC."

"Today, the CDC has willingly allowed itself to be politicized, to behave as an arm of the DNC, and their credibility is in tatters. It is a joke," Cruz said.

The Washington Post noted that the leaked presentation was informational, rather than official CDC policy. The agency did not respond to the paper's requests for comment.

Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, ripped the way the latest mask advice was given without clear data and justification.

"You don't, when you're a public health official, want to be saying, 'Trust us, we know, we can't tell you how,'" Jamieson told the Washington Post.

"The scientific norm suggests that when you make a statement based on science, you show the science."

She also said the CDC made a "second mistake" in that "they do not appear to be candid about the extent to which breakthroughs are yielding hospitalizations."

The report was primarily offering advice on how the CDC should handle "communication challenges" now that evidence suggests even those jabbed are getting infected and spreading the virus. It expressed concern about how the findings "may reduce public confidence in vaccines."

It noted "concerns from local health departments," and insisted it was time to stop describing breakthrough infections as a "small percentage of cases."

However, it did stress that there is a "greater risk" of "hospitalization and death among unvaccinated vs. vaccinated people."

The CDC's own data shows there's only a minuscule risk of vaccinated Americans becoming seriously sick with breakthrough cases.

Out of 161 million US residents who were fully vaccinated as of July 19, just 5,601 caught a severe breakthrough infection and were hospitalized — an infinitesimal 0.0035 percent of the protected population, according to the latest CDC figures available on post-vaccination infections.

When it comes to deaths, the risk is even lower, with just 1,141 vaccinated people dying from a COVID-19 breakthrough infection — or 0.0007 percent of those fully jabbed.

But while the shots prevent around 90 percent of "severe disease," the jabs "may be less effective at preventing infection or transmission," the report stresses.

The experts conceded that this latest warning will increase the difficulty in getting wider inoculation now the "public [is] convinced vaccines no longer work."

Matthew Seeger, a risk communication expert at Wayne State University in Detroit, told The Washington Post that the CDC dug its own grave by "telling the public these are miracle vaccines."

"We have probably fallen a little into the trap of over-reassurance, which is one of the challenges of any crisis communication circumstance.

However, John Moore, a virologist at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York, told the Times it just reaffirmed that "Delta is the troubling variant we already knew it was."

"But the sky isn't falling and vaccination still protects strongly against the worse outcomes," he insisted.