WASHINGTON, D.C. – After months of declining cases of COVID-19 being reported and a slow-but-steady return to normal, the United States may be looking at a new round of government-recommended mask-wearing once again thanks to a surge in infections due to the more-contagious Delta variant of the virus, in addition to vaccination rates plateauing in some parts of the country.
As initially reported by the Washington Post, numerous calls by health officials over the past few weeks to recommend masks for all citizens – vaccinated or not – have apparently reached the White House, with the Biden Administration said to be discussing the possibility with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In May, the CDC announced new guidance on masks in light of the public’s access to COVID-19 vaccines, saying that face coverings and social distancing were no longer needed indoors in most situations if you had been inoculated.
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Initially, infection rates continued to go down, but recently have seen a major uptick as the Delta variant – said to be responsible for 83 percent of infections in the U.S. – has spread through areas with exceptionally low vaccination rates, with Florida, Texas and Missouri alone accounting for forty percent of this week’s COVID-19 cases.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky stated that the seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases leading up to July 20 was 37,674, reflecting a 52.5 percent increase over the previous week. In addition, Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy noted that 97 percent of hospitalizations and 99.5 percent of deaths related to COVID-19 are among the unvaccinated.
However, as reports persist that the White House is actively holding discussions as to the possibility of revising guidelines regarding mask-wearing and social distancing in the wake of the Delta variant’s spread, White House press secretary Jen Psaki denied that any changes were forthcoming at her Thursday press conference.
“The head of the CDC, our public health arm, just spoke to this earlier this morning and made clear that there had not been a decision to change our mask guidance,” she said. “We are guided by science and we’re guided by our public health experts and any decision would come from the CDC… There has been no decision to change our mask guidelines.”
It should be noted that the CDC cannot implement or enforce a mask mandate; this lies in the hands of states and municipalities; for example, Texas Governor Greg Abbott recently said he will not be implementing another mask mandate.
Currently, over 56 percent of those ages 12 and up in the U.S. are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.