Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Friday that municipalities with low rates of vaccination and increasing coronavirus case numbers should consider imposing mask mandates, warning that the rapidly spreading Delta variant is causing a “pandemic of the unvaccinated.”
The nationwide 7-day average of coronavirus cases nationwide has risen nearly 70% over the previous week, Walensky said during a White House coronavirus task force briefing.
There has also been a 36% increase in hospitalisations and a 26% increase in deaths “after weeks of decline,” Walensky said, with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease official, pointing to Delta as the culprit.
Fauci said Delta has gained a firm foothold in the U.S., with more than 50% dominance nationwide and over 70% in some areas of the country.
Walensky noted a clear correlation between counties with low vaccination rates and those with a high-risk of community transmission to bolster the “pandemic of the unvaccinated” assertion.
Asked whether the U.S. will consider strengthening nationwide coronavirus restrictions, Walensky instead urged local officials in areas with low vaccination and high case rates to “consider whether masking… might be helpful for their community.”
Walensky’s comments come as at least one local area is strengthening coronavirus restrictions. Officials in Los Angeles County announced Thursday they will reimpose an indoor mask mandate for all residents regardless of vaccination status – despite the county having a relatively high vaccination rate. Several Republican-controlled states, including Texas, Iowa and Florida, have restricted local governments and schools’ abilities to impose mask mandates.
“The good news is that if you’re fully vaccinated, you are protected against severe covid hospitalisation and death and are even protected against the known variants, including the Delta variant, circulating in this country,” Walensky said during the briefing, adding that unvaccinated Americans “remain at risk” and may lead to “preventable cases, hospitalizations and, sadly, deaths.”
Unvaccinated Americans may be less likely to get vaccinated because of the spread of the Delta variant, despite all three approved vaccines being broadly effective against it. 62% of unvaccinated respondents in a Harris poll conducted earlier this month said the variant makes them “second guess” whether they should be vaccines.
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The Food and Drug Administration will decide in January 2022 whether to give the Pfizer-BioTech vaccine, which is currently authorized for emergency use, full approval, Pfizer and BioTech announced Friday.