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Are Mask Mandates Returning?

Health, NYC

Some officials are considering reinstating mask mandates due to the rise in infections with the contagious Delta variant, which is now in almost every state in the U.S.. We might see a resurgence of COVID-19 in the fall when unvaccinated children return to school. Los Angeles County has already reinstated mask guidance for all individuals, regardless of vaccine status, in public indoor spaces. The Pfizer vaccine is only 88% effective against the Delta variant, and the variant can mutate into even more troubling and resisting variants as the disease spreads among the unvaccinated. The newer Gamma variant has already proven to be more resistant to vaccines and antibody treatments, leading the World Health Organization (“WHO”) to recommend fully vaccinated individuals continue wearing masks where there are higher rates of COVID-19 transmission. [1] 

Although states like New Jersey have not yet reinstated mask mandates for the 2021-2022 school year, Governor Phil Murphy has stated that masks could be required again if the situation gets worse. [2] However, New Jersey will not be able to institute mask mandates that are stricter than requirements set by the Center for Disease Control (“CDC”). If New Jersey has a major uptick in its numbers, though, it will be able to institute a stronger mandate. The CDC does not appear to be planning to recommend unvaccinated people wear masks again. CDC’s Director Rochelle Walensaky has also stated that vaccinated individuals in the U.S. are safe from variants and that the WHO is dealing with a different situation worldwide where far fewer people are vaccinated in other countries. [3] 

Contrary to the CDC’s current recommendations, Dr. Fauci says even fully vaccinated people should continue to wear masks, particularly in Alabama where the vaccine rates are still low. UAB Infectious Disease Expert, Dr. Michael Saag, also agreed with Dr. Fauci. However, he believes that the CDC will not reinstate a mask mandate unless numbers start showing a lot of already vaccinated people getting sick and getting hospitalized. [4] 

Due to its 70 percent vaccination rate (which means 70 percent of New Yorkers have received at least one vaccine dose), New York has already fully reopened. The exceptions are large-scale indoor events venues, schools, public transit, homeless shelters, nursing homes, health care settings, and correctional facilities, which must still follow CDC COVID-19 health protocols. Additionally, unvaccinated individuals are still expected to wear masks as per CDC guidance. The lifting of the restrictions gave businesses the freedom to choose to continue keeping their own restrictions and precautions in place, though businesses must still adhere to federal and state laws, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act. [5] 

Although most businesses are not required to see proof of vaccination, they still have the authorization from New York State and have the option to continue to require masks in accordance with CDC guidance. Other optional protocols include capacity restrictions, social distancing, cleaning and disinfection, health screening, and contact information for tracing. [6] However, businesses should further consider whether they will lift their own restrictions or reinstate already lifted restrictions due to the rising prevalence of the COVID-19 Delta variant and the troubling Gamma variant.

[1] Holly Yan and Madeline Holcombe, “With the more contagious Delta variant, some officials are issuing new mask guidance”, CNN, 29 June 2021, https://www.cnn.com/2021/06/29/health/us-coronavirus-tuesday/index.html, acc. 8 July 2021.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Brent Johnson, “Will N.J. reinstate mask mandates because of Delta COVID variant? Here’s what Murphy said.”, NJ.com, 2 July 2021, updated 3 July 2021, https://www.nj.com/coronavirus/2021/07/will-nj-reinstate-mask-mandates-because-of-delta-covid-variant-heres-what-murphy-said.html, acc. 8 July 2021.

[4] Chasity Maxie, “Dr. Fauci says vaccinated people should wear masks”, WBRC, 5 July 2021, https://www.wbrc.com/2021/07/06/dr-fauci-says-vaccinated-people-should-wear-masks/, acc. 8 July 2021.

[5] “Governor Cuomo Announces COVID-19 Restrictions Lifted as 70% of Adult New Yorkers Have Received First Dose of COVID-19 Vaccine”, New York State, 15 June 2021, https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-announces-covid-19-restrictions-lifted-70-adult-new-yorkers-have-received-first, acc. 8 July 2021. 

[6] Ibid.

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