July 22, 2021 | 9:38am | Updated July 22, 2021 | 1:23pm
The Biden administration is reportedly considering whether to urge vaccinated Americans to once again wear masks in more settings, amid a nationwide spike in COVID-19 cases from the Delta variant.
Top White House aides are in talks with officials at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has dropped its mask mandate for vaccinated people, the Washington Post reported, citing a Biden aide and a federal health official.
One idea being mulled would be to ask everyone to mask up when vaccinated and unvaccinated people mix at public venues or indoors, such as at malls or movie theaters, two people familiar with the conversations told the paper.
But at Thursday’s White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing, its head Jeff Zeintz declined to answer whether discussions about masking policy were going on in the Biden Administration, saying only, “We will continue to follow the CDC on mask guidance.”
Meanwhile, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky insisted at the briefing its mask guidance should remain unchanged for now.
“As we have said consistently the greatest risk right now is to those who are unvaccinated and we have consistently and repeatedly said, if you’re unvaccinated, you need to be wearing a mask to protect yourself and others around you — and we need more people to get vaccinated to stop this pandemic,” Walenksy clarified.
“So overall the CDC recommendations haven’t changed, fully vaccinated people are protected from severe illness, and we’ve always said that communities and individuals need to make the decisions that are right for them based on what’s going on in their local areas.”
When probed about whether it’s possible the public health agency may review its stance on masking up, Walenksy said the CDC will continue to monitor the data.
“We are always looking at the data as the data coming in,” she said.
“If you’re vaccinated, you have exceptional levels of protection from that vaccine, and you may choose to add an extra layer of protection by putting on your mask — and that’s a very individual choice. That has been consistent with our CDC guidance since we put it out,” she added.
White House officials have so far been reluctant to impose any mandates that would explicitly require Americans to show proof of their vaccination status, a source told the outlet, which stressed that talks are preliminary and may also result in new messaging.
The officials also said that any new official guidance would have to come from the CDC, as the White House has taken a hands-off approach with the agency to allow scientists to work without interference.
“At this time, we have no intention of changing our masking guidance,” CDC spokesman Jason McDonald told CNN.
The discussions are being held as the US is seeing more than 40,000 new coronavirus cases a day, a spike from a low of about 11,000 cases a day last month, according to the Washington Post. The more infectious Delta strain has been linked to the surge.
In addition, the rate of vaccination continues to slow, with about 500,000 people a day now getting the jab, according to the newspaper’s vaccine tracker.
“At the White House, we follow the guidance and advice of health and medical experts,” White House assistant press secretary Kevin Munoz told the paper.
“Public health guidance is made by the CDC, and they continue to recommend that fully vaccinated individuals do not wear a mask. If you are not vaccinated, you should be wearing a mask,” he added.
Marcus Plescia, chief medical officer at the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, has spoken with CDC and state officials about the matter this week, the newspaper reported.
“It’s fair to say they are reconsidering everything. I think everything’s on the table,” he told the outlet, including whether to revisit recommendations on wearing masks and social distancing.
With additional reporting by David Marcus