CHICAGO, United States
Americans should once again be wearing masks in some situations, even if they are fully vaccinated, because of the surging Delta variant of COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced Tuesday.
The CDC is not mandating mask-wearing, but many local municipalities and businesses base their mask mandates on guidance made by the CDC.
The new guidance is much more targeted than previous mask recommendations, applying to only parts of the country where COVID-19 cases are spiking, mainly in the South and the West.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said that fully vaccinated people should wear masks in public, indoor settings in those parts of the country that are deemed with "substantial" or "high" levels of transmission. The CDC is also recommending that all teachers and students wear masks this fall, regardless of vaccination status.
The new guidance is a turn-around from May, when the CDC said that fully vaccinated people no longer needed to wear masks or do social distancing. Back then, the number of new COVID cases was dropping as the vaccines became more widely available.
But new spikes are happening in places where vaccination rates are low, due mainly to vaccine hesitancy, or outright vaccine hostility.
The CDC says 83% of new cases in the US come from the Delta variant, and that over 90% of deaths are happening among the unvaccinated.
The new CDC guidance is sure to stir up more recriminations in an increasingly political atmosphere.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a potential Republican presidential nominee, threatened legislative action on Tuesday to prevent mask mandates in schools, and has already imposed a ban on mask-mandates elsewhere in the state. Last week he said that urging vaccinated people to go back to wearing masks would be sending the wrong signal that the vaccines do not work.
But Walensky said on Tuesday that new science shows some vaccinated people could pass along the Delta variant on rare occasions. Medical experts have said that if a vaccinated person does get a rare "break-through" case of COVID-19, the symptoms would likely be mild or non-existent.
President Joe Biden released a statement on Tuesday in support of the new guidance, saying that targeted mask-wearing will help prevent broader lockdowns and school closures.
"When I ran for President, I promised to be straight with you about COVID," he said, "good news or bad. And I promise to follow the science."
He called today's announcement "another step on our journey to defeating this virus," and added that he'll mask up when he travels to those parts of the country where the CDC is recommending mask-wearing.