ALEXANDRIA, Va.—As COVID-19 infections rise again, more areas may follow Los Angeles County in bringing back face-mask requirements in stores, restaurants and other public places, regardless of an individual’s vaccination status.
Earlier this week, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy indicated support for officials in areas where cases of COVID-19 are spiking due to the delta variant to take more mitigation measures, including reinstating face mask rules for everyone, regardless of vaccination, the Washington Post reports.
On Thursday, however, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said her agency’s current guidance on face masks hasn’t changed, the New York Times reports. “If you are vaccinated you get exceptional protection from the vaccines, but you have the opportunity to make the personal choice to add extra layers of protection,” Dr. Walensky said during a White House COVID-19 reponse team briefing.
Under current CDC guidelines, fully vaccinated Americans do not have to wear masks in most settings, though a federal mask mandate remains in place for airlines and other forms of public transportation and in health-care settings.
The Philadelphia Health Department Thursday issued new guidance recommending—but not requiring—that people in the city wear a face mask indoors, whether or not they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and avoid crowded indoor spaces. Philadelphia lifted its mask mandate June 11.
“Because of the rapid increase in cases here and around the country, and because we are seeing hospitalizations rise among children in Philadelphia, we are now strongly recommending that everyone mask while indoors in places where you do not know that everyone is vaccinated,” the agency said.
In New York, the legislator who chairs the City Council’s Health Committee has called for reinstatement of the city’s mask requirement, but Mayor Bill DeBlasio has issued assurances that a mandate will not be reimposed.
Dr. Jerome Adams, Murthy’s predecessor as surgeon general, has suggested that the CDC may have been too quick in declaring that vaccinated individuals no longer needed to wear masks in public spaces.
Early in the pandemic, Adams and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease specialist, said that face masks were ineffective against COVID-19 and unnecessary. Later research showed that face masks are one of the most effective ways of slowing or interrupting the spread of coronavirus.
Los Angeles County officials reinstated the face-mask mandate to thwart the rapid spread of the delta variant, a more transmissible mutation that has been cited as the reason COVID-19 infection rates are climbing again. Since Los Angeles County fully reopened on June 15, infections have increased sevenfold. That, plus a surge of COVID-19 cases in areas with low vaccination rates, has sparked speculation that mask mandates will be reinstated in other regions.
The White House is reportedly in talks with the CDC and other top officials on whether to push for updated mask guidance. Talks reportedly are still in the early stages, and any updated guidelines regarding masks would come directly from the CDC, according to a Washington Post report.
The reported discussions come as health officials warn that the country faces a “pandemic of the unvaccinated.” In Missouri, one of the new epicenters for the virus surge, Gov. Mike Parson announced Wednesday that the state would offer monetary incentives to boost the pace of vaccinations. So far, just 40% of Missouri’s population has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the CDC.
Officials say the White House aims to leave it up to the CDC to determine mask guidelines. “At the White House, we follow the guidance and advice of health and medical experts,” said Kevin Munoz, assistant White House press secretary.
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