States send mixed signals on COVID-19 mask recommendations

Wearing masks at farmer's market

Elvert Barnes / Flickr cc

After the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced yesterday new guidance suggesting mask use for vaccinated Americans in areas with high COVID-19 transmission, several states have signaled they will either follow or ignore the agency's recommendations—the latest sign the pandemic has become a political issue in the United States. 

The CDC's guidelines make it clear it is up to state and local officials to determine when and if mask use is appropriate based on a series of metrics, which take into account case rates and vaccine coverage. 

But in a tweet yesterday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said he would not support mask mandates. 

"The time for government mask mandates is over—now is the time for personal responsibility. In May, I signed an executive order prohibiting mask mandates by gov't entities," Abbott wrote. "Every Texan has the right to choose whether they will wear a mask or have their children wear masks."

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey issued a similar statement, suggesting that the CDC's guidance is a sign of the agency's, and the Biden administration's, inability to control the pandemic.

"Arizona does not allow mask mandates, vaccine mandates, vaccine passports or discrimination in schools based on who is or isn't vaccinated. We've passed all of this into law, and it will not change," Ducey said. "Today's announcement by the CDC will unfortunately only diminish confidence in the vaccine and create more challenges for public health officials 一 people who have worked tirelessly to increase vaccination rates."

Elsewhere, state and city leaders showed support for mask mandates. Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak reinstated a mask mandate for all residents in indoor public spaces areas with high transmission, including Las Vegas. Officials in Illinois signaled the same. 

LA requires vaccination for city workers

The discussion of mask mandates takes place against the backdrop of surging COVID-19 activity due to the Delta (B1617.2) variant, and a lagging vaccination effort. 

The United States reported 108,775 new COVID-19 cases yesterday, according to the New York Times tracker. The 7-day average of new daily COVID-19 cases is 63,248, with 290 daily deaths.

The CDC COVID Data Tracker shows 395,460,845 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been delivered in the US, and 342,607,540 have been administered, with 49.2% of Americans fully vaccinated (56.9% have at least one dose).

Echoing New York City, Los Angeles city officials announced yesterday that all city employees will need to provide proof of vaccination or get tested weekly, the Los Angeles Times reports.

The CDC issued a Health Alert Network (HAN) health advisory yesterday to increase vaccination across the country. According to the HAN, as of Jul 23, 1,856 (63.0%) of the 2,945 counties with available vaccination data have vaccination coverage under 40%. Among those counties with less than 40% of the population vaccinated, 36.0% have COVID-19 incidence rates in the high burden level (≥100 cases/100,000 over the last seven days).

"CDC recommends continued efforts to accelerate primary vaccination efforts, especially in areas with lower vaccination coverage. Individuals who are not fully vaccinated need to maintain all recommended prevention measures," the advisory read.

In related news, sources tell the Washington Post that President Biden will announce Thursday that all federal employees will be required to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or face regular testing. 

Pfizer says third dose protects against Delta 

In its second-quarter earnings report, Pfizer said a booster dose of the company's mRNA vaccine given 6 months after the second dose shows neutralization titers 5 to 10 times higher against the B1351 variant and more than 5 times higher against Delta in younger people and 11 times higher in older people. 

The company said it will publish more definitive data about the analysis, and "all accumulated data will be shared as part of the ongoing discussions with the FDA, EMA and other regulatory authorities in the coming weeks."

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