WASHINGTON — The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that vaccinated individuals in certain parts of the country should resume wearing masks indoors as the high transmissible Covid-19 Delta variant continues to surge.
The CDC also recommends everyone in K-12 schools wear a mask, regardless of their vaccination status.
According to CDC data, 46% of counties have high transmission and 17% have substantial transmission. People in certain areas of the country with high or substantial Covid-19 transmission should resume wearing masks indoors, the CDC will say. Fully vaccinated Americans will not be required to wear masks outdoors.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky announced the decision at a briefing on Tuesday.
“We’re seeing now that it’s actually possible if you’re a rare breakthrough infection that you can transmit further, which is the reason for the change,” Walensky said.
Reuters was first to report the story.
Following the announcement, staff members around the White House began to wear masks. Vice President Kamala Harris wore one at an event Tuesday afternoon and urged more Americans to get the vaccine.
“People need to get vaccinated, that is the only way we are going to cut this thing off, nobody likes wearing a mask, get vaccinated,” Harris said.
The news comes just two months after President Joe Biden said it was a “great day in America” at a White House event when the CDC revised its mask mandate for vaccinated Americans. The change is a setback for a country struggling to get a hold on the raging pandemic that has upended lives over the past year.
The issue of mask-wearing has gotten political with the CDC’s decision expected to get backlash from Republicans.
“It is not a welcomed piece of news that masking is going to be a part of people’s lives who have already been vaccinated,” Walensky said. “This new data weighs heavily on me, this new guidance weighed heavily on me and I just wanted to convey that this was not a decision that was taken lightly.”
Some health experts are now questioning how effective cloth masks are. Some are wanting to go to more effective masks like the KN95 to be recommended for indoor use for all, including the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions.
The Biden administration has been concerned that a widespread mask mandate could make those on the fence about getting their Covid-19 shot not get the vaccine at all.
“I understand how challenging this is in terms of the vaccine hesitancy and wanting people to get the vaccine,” said Dr. Leana Wen on CNN this week. “But the Biden administration made a serious error in the first place with their CDC guidance on masks and it is really hard to put the genie back in the bottle.”
Texas and Florida make up 40% of all new cases, according to CDC data. There is concern the areas with low vaccination rates will put those who are vaccinated at increased risk of contracting the virus.
This story has been updated with additional information.