The White House and some Democratic leaders said they will adopt new federal guidelines on masking to prevent COVID-19, but the advice is landing with a thud in GOP-led regions, including ones that inspired the revision because of high transmission within their borders.
Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak immediately decided to adopt the guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which says both unvaccinated and vaccinated people should wear a mask in public indoor spaces in regions with high or substantial transmission.
He reinstated a mask mandate for counties that meet the federal definition as of July 30. Affected areas would currently include Clark County, which includes Las Vegas.
Nevada is seeing 34 hospitalizations per 100,000 people, the highest rate in the country, according to a New York Times tracker. About 44% of its population is fully vaccinated.
Some people have characterized the CDC guidelines, a turnabout from May advice that said vaccinated people don’t need to cover their faces in most areas, as a mandate. But it’s up to local leaders or businesses to put teeth behind the guidelines through actual rules.
Illinois Health Director Ngozi Ezike said she is recommending masks in line with the CDC’s guidance.
“Cases and hospitalizations due to COVID-19 both continue to increase, overwhelmingly among the unvaccinated, but the risk is greater for everyone if we do not stop the ongoing spread of the virus and the delta variant,” Dr. Ezike said. “We know masking can help prevent transmission of COVID-19 and its variants. Until more people are vaccinated, we join CDC in recommending everyone, regardless of vaccination status, wear a mask indoors in areas of substantial and high transmissions, and in K-12 schools.”
The Biden administration said White House staff will wear masks indoors based on Washington’s designation as a high-transmission area.
The CDC made its recommendations based on data suggesting a vaccinated person can catch the virus and be able to transmit it to others because their viral load is similar to that of an unvaccinated person.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said those instances of transmission remain rare, but the agency determined it was important to flag it so that vaccinated people in places of high or substantial transmission, where the phenomenon would be more likely, can mask up to protect the unvaccinated and children who are ineligible for the shots.
“The message is simple — if you are in an area where delta is surging, you should mask up indoors,” White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters. “The CDC has to adapt to the virus and unfortunately — because not enough Americans have stepped up to get vaccinated — they had to provide new guidance to help save lives.”
The CDC said the vaccines should still provide adequate protection against severe disease, prompting some to argue the emphasis should remain on widespread vaccination instead of muddling the message.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, slammed the part of the CDC guidance that recommends universal masking in K-12 schools.
He pointed to data suggested the virus is not a big risk to healthy children.
“At the end of the day, the governor trusts parents to weigh the risks and benefits and make the best choices for their kids,” the governor said.
Nearly 6,800 people are hospitalized for COVID-19 in Florida, the highest raw total of any state, while its 32 hospitalizations-per-100,000 people is the second-highest in the nation. Roughly 49% of its population is fully vaccinated, in line with the nationwide average but far below the mid-60% rates seen in New England.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said he won’t impose new rules.
“The time for government mask mandates is over — now is the time for personal responsibility,” Mr. Abbott tweeted. “In May, I signed an executive order prohibiting mask mandates by gov’t entities. Every Texan has the right to choose whether they will wear a mask or have their children wear masks.”
Texas has the eighth-highest proportion of its population hospitalized for COVID-19. Only 43% of its population is fully vaccinated.