Consumers in areas with high levels of new COVID-19 infections should resume wearing facemasks while dining in restaurants, regardless of their vaccination status, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Tuesday.
The federal health agency also encouraged community leaders in areas beset by a surge in new infections to echo the recommendation. Local health authorities typically follow the CDC’s advisories in setting their own public health policies and rules, as many did when the agency advised that fully vaccinated restaurants could stop wearing masks in restaurants and other public places.
In an aside, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky also said the agency would support vaccine mandates and proof-of-vaccination requirements in areas with high levels of coronavirus transmission. She noted that the CDC does not have the jurisdiction to impose a national mandate, but suggested that local areas should look at those options and advise local businesses accordingly.
“If having businesses require vaccines would help, we would support that,” Walensky said.
She spoke as New York City and San Francisco are considering requirements that consumers provide either proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test before being allowed to dine in a restaurant.
The CDC stopped short of recommending that facemasks be worn in public indoor places again by all consumers in every part of the country, as it did before May 13. At that time, the agency surprised many by announcing that vaccinated individuals no longer needed to cover their mouths and noses as a way of slowing the spread of COVID. That switch prompted states, counties and municipalities to drop requirements that all restaurant guests wear masks except while eating or drinking.
The agency said its re-masking recommendation applied to all individuals, regardless of their vaccination status, but only in areas with “substantial or high transmission” levels of COVID. The CDC maintains a map showing what areas of the U.S. fit that description. The graphic indicates that a vast majority of the country meets the “substantial or high transmission” standard.
Walensky said the CDC changed its policy because of data showing an alarming rise in COVID cases, a result of coronavirus’ delta variant spreading rapidly among the unvaccinated. The delta mutation is far more contagious than earlier forms and now accounts for the overwhelming majority of new COVID cases.
The director stressed again that the primary focus of the CDC’s coronavirus policy is encouraging vaccinations. “ We strongly encourage everyone to get vaccinated,” Walensky emphasized. “Vaccinated individuals continue to represent only a small percentage of [new] infections.”
Persons who are unvaccinated are seven times more likely to contract COVID-19, and 20 times more likely to be hospitalized, according to CDC statistics.