Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said Sunday that he anticipates more counties around the nation will reinstitute COVID-19 prevention measures, including mask mandates, amid case surges linked to more transmissible variants of the coronavirus.
Murthy’s warning came just days after Los Angeles County said all residents would be required to wear masks indoors again, regardless of vaccination status, as new infections linked to the delta variant increased in the region. The delta variant is highly transmissible and already accounts for a majority of the new cases in the U.S. Public health officials have warned that unvaccinated Americans are particularly vulnerable.
“It’s very reasonable for counties to take more mitigation measures like the mask rules you see coming out in LA, and I anticipate that will happen in other parts of the country too,” Murthy said during an interview on ABC News’ “This Week.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and California state health policy require people who are unvaccinated to wear masks in public. In May, the CDC announced that fully vaccinated people could remove their masks in most settings. Murthy added that the CDC’s guidance had always included flexibility for local jurisdictions to impose tighter restrictions if needed.
The delta strain has upended plans for a full reopening of society in Los Angeles and other parts of the country. Although new cases and hospitalizations dropped significantly in the spring, the U.S. is currently in the midst of a significant surge in the pandemic. According to The New York Times, new coronavirus cases have soared 140% in the past two weeks. And less than half of the country is fully vaccinated.
Despite the high transmissibility of the delta variant, the current vaccine offerings remain effective at preventing severe illness and death associated with COVID-19. Almost all of the nation’s current coronavirus deaths are among people who were not vaccinated, a statistic Murthy said he was particularly troubled by.
Last Thursday, Murthy released his first advisory since he was appointed surgeon general by President Joe Biden, issuing a warning to the nation that the spread of COVID-19 misinformation was an “insidious threat” to the U.S. He called out tech companies for failing to rein in anti-vaccination posts, saying modern social media giants have “enabled misinformation to poison our information environment with little accountability to their users.”
“They’ve designed product features, such as ‘Like’ buttons, that reward us for sharing emotionally charged content, not accurate content,” Murthy said at the White House last week. “And their algorithms tend to give us more of what we click on, pulling us deeper and deeper into a well of misinformation.”