In May, federal health officials in the United States said that fully vaccinated individuals no longer need to be masked, even indoors. The Council paved the way for a national reopening that continues to gain momentum.
But that was before the spread of the Delta variant, a highly infectious form of the virus that was first discovered in India and later identified in at least 85 countries. It now accounts for one in five infections in the United States.
Concerned about a rise in cases around the world, the World Health Organization reiterated its longstanding recommendation last week that everyone should wear masks.
Los Angeles County health officials followed suit on Monday, recommending that “everyone, regardless of vaccination status, should wear masks as a precaution in public places indoors.”
Barbara Ferrer, the county’s public health director, said the new recommendation was because of the increase in infections, an increase in cases due to the worrying Delta variant, and the continued high numbers of unvaccinated residents, especially children, black and Latin American residents, and important workers required.
About half of Los Angeles County’s residents are fully vaccinated, and about 60 percent have received at least one dose. While the number of positive tests in the county is still below 1 percent, the rate has increased, added Dr. Ferrer added, and the number of reinfections in residents who were previously infected and not vaccinated has increased.
As far as Los Angeles County has managed to control the pandemic, it was due to a multi-faceted strategy that combined vaccinations with health restrictions to curb new infections, said Dr. Ferrer. Natural immunity among those already infected has also kept transmission low, she noted, but it is not clear how long the natural immunity will last.
“We don’t want to go back to lockdown or more disruptive mandates here,” said Dr. Ferrer. “We want to stay on the path we are currently on, which keeps the transmission by the community very low.”
Health officials in Chicago and New York City said this week they had no plans to re-examine masking requirements. Officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declined to comment, but neither have indicated any intention of revising or re-checking the masking recommendations for fully vaccinated individuals.
But the Delta variant’s trajectory outside of the United States suggests that concerns are likely to increase.