The Biden administration is considering an about-face on masking and has plans to “follow the science” as the highly contagious delta variant imperils America’s recent success in containing COVID-19.
Citing one of six sources, The Washington Post reports that “The context of the conversations is “what are the levers we can pull to fight delta.”
In May, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that vaccinated Americans no longer need to wear face coverings in most settings. But since then, the country’s vaccination uptake has stalled and COVID-19 has made a startling comeback. The nation is averaging about 40,000 new cases a day (up from 11,000 last month), and 83% of new infections stem from the delta variant.
According to The Post, the White House is letting the CDC take the lead on any changes to public health policy, but the Biden administration is reluctant to require so-called “vaccine passports.”
“One idea batted around by some officials would be to ask all Americans to wear masks when vaccinated and unvaccinated people mix at public places or indoors, such as at malls or movie theaters, according to two people familiar with the conversations,” reports The Post.
The vast majority of new infections are taking place among the unvaccinated, particularly in pockets of the Midwest with low vaccination rates. More than 97 percent of people hospitalized with severe COVID-19 infections are unvaccinated, according to the CDC. Any new guidelines – including masking mandates and renewed social distancing – would be designed to benefit those reluctant to get the jab.
The White House understands that convincing Americans to don masks once again would be a tall ask, especially since the CDC struggled to explain why they amended their guidance in May.
CDC officials “always say they want to follow the science, but they did not prepare the public early on to say ‘we are looking at multiple factors, including how science fits in with reality and social science, and how it fits with expected and unexpected changes, especially sudden changes, where we have to turn on a dime to try to protect more people,’” Jody Lanard, a physician who worked for nearly two decades as a pandemic communications adviser consulting with the World Health Organization, told The Post.
There are also political consequences for a new mask mandate. In public polling, Biden receives high grades for his handling of the pandemic. A step backwards would jeopardize his ability to tout the country’s gains against COVID-19 in the 2022 midterms. As CNN puts it:
When President Joe Biden emerged in the Rose Garden in May to herald the CDC announcement that masks were no longer required for vaccinated Americans, he declared it “a great day in America;” new guidance to mask up would inevitably underscore the not-so-great predicament currently facing the nation.
Some municipalities are already returning to increased mask wearing. In Los Angeles, residents are instructed to wear masks in indoor public settings. Biden also indicated earlier this week that children under 12 will likely have to wear a mask when they return to school in the fall.