Dr. Anthony Fauci said Sunday that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is examining whether to reinstate mask guidance even for fully vaccinated people in public.
"This is under active consideration," Fauci told CNN anchor Jake Tapper, when asked if masks should be brought back for vaccinated Americans.
Tapper had cited CNN's reporting, which said that the Biden administration's top health officials are holding "preliminary conversations" on whether to urge vaccinated people to wear masks again in public. The Washington Post also reported that the talks were in a "preliminary phase and their result could be as simple as new messaging from top White House officials."
The reported conversations are occurring as the highly contagious Delta variant runs rampant in states with lower vaccination rates. Missouri, Texas and Florida are responsible for 40 percent of all new U.S. coronavirus cases, White House pandemic response coordinator Jeff Zients said last week.
Although the number of coronavirus cases is still much lower than during the peak of the pandemic, the CDC reported Thursday that weekly cases had risen by 46 percent compared to the previous seven-day period.
"We're going in the wrong direction," Fauci said Sunday on "State of the Union." "And since we have 50 percent of the country [that] is not fully vaccinated, that's a problem, particularly when you have a variant like Delta, which has this extraordinary characteristic of being able to spread very efficiently and very easily from person to person."
Fauci, who serves as President Biden’s chief medical adviser, added: "If we don't vaccinate people, the model is going to predict that we're going to be in trouble as we continue to get more and more cases."
To slow this rise in cases, some local health officials have issued stricter mask guidance than their federal counterparts. The CDC still says fully vaccinated people are safe without masks in most situations. All versions of the COVID-19 vaccines significantly reduce the chance of severe COVID-19 symptoms, including those from the Delta variant, but it’s still possible to become infected.
Last weekend, Los Angeles County reimposed its mask requirement for public locations, including for people who are fully vaccinated. A slew of other California counties are strongly recommending similar masking but are holding off mandating it. Chicago recently announced that it will require masks in public schools, regardless of vaccination status.
"That's a local decision that's not incompatible with the CDC's overall recommendations that give a lot of discretion to the locals," Fauci said Sunday of such policies. "And we're seeing that in L.A. We're seeing it in Chicago. We're seeing that in New Orleans, because the officials there, many of them are saying, 'Even if you're vaccinated, it's prudent to wear a mask indoors.'"
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