The US national public health agency announced Tuesday that fully vaccinated Americans should go back to wearing face masks in public indoor settings in areas with high coronavirus infection rates.
The reversal of previous guidelines is in response to the highly infectious delta variant of the coronavirus.
The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Rochelle Walensky, said data suggested that vaccinated people can spread COVID-19 in rare cases.
She said the data was based on evidence from several states and other countries.
The CDC also recommended indoor masks for all teachers, staff, students and visitors to schools, regardless of vaccination status.
US President Joe Biden, speaking later in the day, said, "the CDC announcement makes clear that the most important protection we have against the delta variant is to get vaccinated." He added that he hoped people in affected areas would follow the new CDC guidelines, noting that he would.
What were the CDC guidelines on masks up until now?
For a large portion of the pandemic, the CDC had advised Americans to wear face masks outdoors if they were within 6 feet (1.8 meters) of one another.
In April, the agency eased guidelines on wearing masks outside following an increased vaccine rollout. Those who had been fully vaccinated were no longer required to wear masks unless in large crowds.
Guidelines were again amended in May, and fully vaccinated people no longer had to wear masks outdoors in crowds and in most indoor places. People are still required to wear masks in crowded public settings including buses, planes and hospitals.
What is the current COVID situation in the US?
The US continues to lead global figures when it comes to the number of new infections.
It is currently averaging over 57,000 new cases each day. Around 24,000 of that number require hospitalization.
The US has seen over 34.5 million infections and over 600,000 coronavirus-related deaths since the start of the pandemic.
Around 50% of the population has been vaccinated.
Last week, US health authorities said the delta variant represents over 80% of new infections. There has been a 32% uptick in COVID hospitalizations when compared to the previous week.
Authorities decided Monday to keep existing restrictions on international travel over concerns about the delta variant infection rate.
The US currently bars entry by most non-US citizens who have been to the United Kingdom, the 26 Schengen nations of Europe, Ireland, China, India, South Africa, Iran and Brazil within the last two weeks.
kb/rt (Reuters, AP)