The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending that all people, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks in certain indoor public places as the nation continues to see growing coronavirus cases.
This new recommendation is for parts of the U.S. where cases of the coronavirus are surging, as well as everyone in K-12 schools, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky said at a press conference Tuesday.
“This pandemic continues to pose a threat to all Americans,” Walensky said while stressing the risk posed by the highly transmissible delta variant, which is predominant in the U.S.
The delta variant behaves differently from past COVID-19 strains, with new scientific evidence showing that some vaccinated people infected with the variant may be contagious and able to spread the virus to others.
“This new science is worrisome,” she said, later adding that the “vast majority” of infections are still occurring in unvaccinated people.
Walensky cautioned that if the virus is allowed to spread, it will continue to mutate and could eventually evade our vaccines. This could be “just a few mutations away,” she said.
Roughly 46% of counties in the U.S. are seeing high transmission levels of the virus. Florida, Missouri, Louisiana, Arkansas and Alabama have reported the most positive cases in the latest seven-day period, according to the latest CDC data.
President Joe Biden called the updated mask guidance “another step on our journey to defeating this virus.”
“More vaccinations and mask wearing in the areas most impacted by the delta variant will enable us to avoid the kind of lockdowns, shutdowns, school closures, and disruptions we faced in 2020. Unlike 2020, we have both the scientific knowledge and the tools to prevent the spread of this disease. We are not going back to that,” he said in a statement following the CDC’s announcement.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, a chief medical adviser for Biden, had suggested that such measures may be taken on Sunday while warning that “we’re going in the wrong direction.”
“This is an issue predominantly among the unvaccinated, which is the reason why we’re out there, practically pleading with the unvaccinated people to go out and get vaccinated,” Fauci said in an interview with CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Vaccination rates peaked in April and, after gradually declining, have plateaued in recent weeks, according to data released by the CDC. Just less than 50% of the U.S. population has been fully vaccinated, despite vaccines being first made available to Americans outside of the medical sector earlier this year.
The CDC relaxed its outdoor mask recommendations for people who are two weeks past their final vaccine shot. The following month, the health agency eased indoor mask-wearing guidance for those fully vaccinated, suggesting they did not need to wear masks inside in most places.
Then, in early July, vaccinated teachers and students were told they don’t need to wear masks inside school buildings, with the CDC citing a general decline in COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths.
Coronavirus cases started to generally plateau across the U.S. in the days after that last announcement was made. They’ve since risen from a low of 8,059 new daily cases on June 14 to more than 47,000 new daily cases on July 23, according to CDC data.
As of July, the more transmissible delta variant of the coronavirus makes up the majority of cases in the U.S., rising from an estimated 20% of new cases in late June to 83% of new cases by July 20.
Vaccines reduce the risk of people spreading the virus that causes COVID-19. Getting fully vaccinated may not 100% prevent someone from contracting the virus but it will reduce the chance of severe illness or death from the disease, according to the CDC.