Face mask requirements are returning to the United States in some communities and workplaces, along with directives for mandatory coronavirus vaccinations, in a new push to curb the easily transmissible delta variant of the infection that has already killed more than 611,000 Americans.
On the Independence Day holiday earlier this month, U.S. President Joe Biden heralded the strides the country had made in combating the coronavirus. But now he said he was seriously considering requiring that the more than 2.1 million federal workers be vaccinated, and that he would adhere to face mask rules when he visited parts of the country where the virus was surging.
The U.S. is now recording more than 60,000 new coronavirus cases each day, the government said, up from fewer than 12,000 a day in late June.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the leader of the Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives, has reimposed a mask requirement in the chamber.
The western state of Nevada, where the popular Las Vegas gambling mecca is located, is reimposing mask rules for indoor gatherings, as is the Midwestern city of Kansas City, Missouri. A major newspaper, The Washington Post, said it would require that all its journalists be vaccinated before returning to the office in mid-September.
The requirements follow new guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which said Tuesday that new data suggested even vaccinated people could pass on the virus if they became infected. The CDC said masks should be worn inside public places in communities that have seen a dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks. COVID-19 is the disease caused by the coronavirus.
“I know this is not a message America wants to hear,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky told CNN on Wednesday. “With prior variants, when people had these rare breakthrough infections, we didn’t see the capacity of them to spread the virus to others, but with the delta variant, we now see that you can actually now pass it to somebody else.”
She stressed that vaccines against the coronavirus were preventing greater levels of hospitalization and death. But millions of Americans remain skeptical of the vaccines and are refusing to get inoculated, or are saying they are unlikely to do so.
Walensky said unvaccinated people were accounting for “a vast majority” of new infections. Two-thirds of the vaccine-eligible population of people 12 years and older in the U.S. have received at least one dose. Still, the government said slightly less than half of the U.S. population of more than 328 million people had been fully vaccinated.
“We can halt the chain of transmission,” Walensky said Wednesday on “CBS This Morning.” “We can do something if we unify together, if we get people vaccinated who are not yet vaccinated. If we mask in the interim, we can halt this in just a matter of a couple of weeks.”
With the new federal guidance, numerous state and municipal governments across the U.S. are reconsidering or rescinding their earlier easing of mask rules.
The CDC also called on school systems across the country to require masks for students, teachers and visitors as they start the new school year in August and September. But some states in the South have passed laws banning masks in schools, leaving it unclear as to how they may react to the new CDC guidance.
Some information in this report came from The Associated Press.