The White House has told staff that they must again wear masks, a symbolic setback in the fight against Covid-19 as the highly contagious delta variant spreads.
The decision came after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tightened mask guidelines, advising people wear them indoors in public regardless of vaccination status in places where the virus is rapidly spreading.
“Washington, D.C., has recently been classified as having a SUBSTANTIAL level of community transmission,” according to a memo sent to the White House staff on Tuesday. “As a result, the White House will require all individuals -- regardless of vaccination status -- to wear a mask at all times when on campus.”
The memo said that everyone on the White House campus needs to comply no later than the start of business on Wednesday. The directive say anyone who isn’t fully vaccinated must continue to follow social distancing guidelines.
The White House had lifted its mandate for vaccinated staff and visitors to wear masks while inside the complex in May as virus cases plummeted across the country.
Covid fatalities in the U.S. surged 48% over the past week to a daily average of 239 and hospitalizations are also on the rise. The CDC says the delta variant now makes up 83% of all sequenced Covid-19 cases in the U.S., up from 50% at the beginning of the month. Areas of the country with limited vaccination coverage are allowing spread of the highly transmissible variant.
CDC Director Rochelle Walenksy said recent data suggests that some vaccinated people who get infected with the delta variant can spread it to others.
In a written statement, President Joe Biden called new public health guidelines on masks “another step on our journey to defeating this virus.”
Biden said he would follow the guidelines when he travels to areas with high rates of infection. Biden also said that on Thursday he would “lay out the next steps” for getting more Americans vaccinated.
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