Mask mandates are back on the table as Covid-19 surges nationwide

Former US Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams said on Friday that the CDC needs to clarify its messaging to get Americans back on board with stemming the rising tide of infections.

While the need for mask wearing never fully dissipated during the pandemic, guidance from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in May that removed restrictions for vaccinated individuals was a welcome harbinger of a possible return to normalcy.

Now, with Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations increasing throughout the nation, safety precautions such as mask mandates are once again under consideration.

The CDC’s decision “was putting trust in the American people to really do the right thing, but unfortunately people chose to go out and pull their mask off, whether they were vaccinated or not,” Adams said.

“We’ve got to trust our health officials to give the best advice they can at the time, and the CDC gave the best advice they could at the time,” he added. “But guess what? That was pre-Delta surge. The Delta variant is changing things.”

The Delta variant, believed to be more transmittable and dangerous, accounted for an estimated 83% of coronavirus cases in the US according to data this week from the CDC, which is a substantial rise from negligible numbers in early May.

Every state has a seven-day average of new Covid-19 cases that matched or exceeded the week before, according to the latest figures Friday from Johns Hopkins University.

Health experts have repeatedly pointed to preemptive vaccination as the best way to get ahead of surges due to their proven efficacy, but CDC data Friday showed that the rate of vaccinations continues to slow. The daily average of people becoming fully vaccinated is the lowest it’s been since the end of January, when the US was just beginning to ramp up its vaccination drive.

Thirty states have yet to fully vaccinate at least half of their residents, with Alabama and Mississippi at less than 35% fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.

In Alabama, Gov. Kay Ivey on Thursday called out “the unvaccinated folks” for the rise in Covid-19 cases. “Folks are supposed to have common sense. But it’s time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks, not the regular folks. It’s the unvaccinated folks that are letting us down,” she told reporters in Birmingham.

With numbers lagging, officials say more countermeasures against Covid-19 are likely needed.

Guidance on mask wearing from the CDC has not changed, but CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said Thursday localities may want to make their own call.

“Communities and individuals need to make the decisions that are right for them based on what’s going on in their local areas,” she said. “So if you’re an area that has a high case rate and low rates of vaccination where Delta cases are rising, you should certainly be wearing a mask if you are unvaccinated.”

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