U.S. CDC Set To Fully Recommend Vaccinated Americans Wear Masks Indoors In Some Cases

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By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is set on Tuesday to recommend fully vaccinated Americans wear masks indoors in at least some instances, as the more highly transmissible Delta variant of the coronavirus has led to a surge in infections, sources said.

The CDC is also expected to recommend all students and teachers at kindergarten through 12th grade schools wear masks regardless of vaccination status, the sources said.

The changes mark a reversal of the CDC’s announcement in May that prompted millions of vaccinated Americans to shed their face coverings.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki confirmed the CDC would be revising its guidance on masks based on evolving data and a changing virus.

“Our goal is to save their lives, and our responsibility and the responsibility of public health officials is to continue to provide updated guidance … from an evolving virus,” Psaki said.

The United States leads the world in the daily average number of new infections https://graphics.reuters.com/world-coronavirus-tracker-and-maps, accounting for one in every nine cases reported worldwide each day. The seven-day average for new cases has been rising sharply and stands at 57,126, still about a quarter of the pandemic peak.

The CDC will announce revised mask guidance but the specifics of when and where the agency will recommend fully vaccinated Americans wear masks indoors are not clear, the sources said. The recommendations to wear masks in some indoor settings will apply in areas with surging COVID-19 cases, they said.

The CDC, which declined to comment, said it plans a 3 p.m. (1900 GMT) COVID-19 update media briefing.

In May, the agency advised that fully vaccinated people do not need to wear masks outdoors and can avoid wearing them indoors in most places, guidance the agency said would allow life to begin to return to normal.

The CDC also said in May that fully immunized people would not need to physically distance in most places.

The school advice is a change from earlier this month, when the CDC recommended for U.S. schools reopening in the fall the use of masks indoors for everyone not fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and three feet (1 meter) of distance within classrooms.

When a reporter noted that at least eight states bar schools from requiring masks, Psaki said: “I am happy not to live in a state where that is the guidance.”

‘A NECESSARY PRECAUTION’

The CDC said earlier that school administrators can require indoor mask use even for students and educators who are vaccinated, depending on the needs of the community.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten praised the expected new CDC mask guidance in a statement, saying it was needed “to deal with the changing realities of virus transmission.”

She called it “a necessary precaution until children under 12 can receive a COVID vaccine and more Americans over 12 get vaccinated.”

The new CDC recommendations are not binding and many Americans, especially in Republican leaning states, may choose not to follow them.

On Monday, the Biden administration confirmed it will not lift any existing international travel restrictions, citing the rising number of CVOID-19 cases and the expectation that they will continue to rise in the weeks ahead.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said in May that the relaxed guidance was based on a sharp reduction in cases, expansion of vaccines to younger people, and vaccine efficacy against coronavirus variants.

At the time, it still recommended vaccinated people wear masks on planes and trains, and at airports, transit hubs, mass transit and places like hospitals and doctor’s offices.

Top U.S. infectious disease official Anthony Fauci said on Sunday on CNN that health officials were considering whether to revise mask guidance for vaccinated Americans, saying it was “under active consideration.”

Masks became a political issue in the United States with then-President Donald Trump resisting mandating face coverings while President Joe Biden embraced masks and mandated them for transit hubs days after taking office.

Some U.S. states issued aggressive mask mandates while others declined to do so or dropped them months ago.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Additional reporting by Nandita Bose; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien and Bill Berkrot)