More states and cities – most recently Washington D.C., on Thursday afternoon – are bringing back full mask mandates or strong masking recommendations in the wake of the new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance that most vaccinated people should wear masks in indoor public places.
The new policies taking effect everywhere from California to Atlanta follow a handful of jurisdictions that quickly required near-universal masking after Tuesday’s announcement. And they also come as some other states and cities resist adopting the CDC’s new recommendations in a break from how these areas handled the pandemic previously.
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“Given the trends in cases that we see that we want to get ahead of it and nip it in the bud as best we can – and we know that masks can be very effective in doing that – so beginning this Saturday at 5 a.m. I will issue by mayor’s order the directive that people over the age of 2 must wear a mask indoors regardless of their vaccination status,” D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said.
“I know that D.C. residents have very closely following the public health guidelines and they will embrace this. Our businesses will embrace it,” Bowser added.
Bowser later said that she expects forcing masks back on people should not be an issue for D.C. because D.C. residents never stopped wearing masks. And she still encouraged people to come to work in person at offices, just in person. Department of Health LaQuandra Nesbitt, meanwhile, encouraged people to wear masks at private gatherings in homes when there are both vaccinated and unvaccinated people mixed together.
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Another major American city, Atlanta, also announced a mask mandate Wednesday.
“Public health experts overwhelmingly agree, and data has proved, that wearing a face covering helps slow the spread of this deadly virus,” Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said Wednesday evening. “As COVID-19 rates increase, we must remain vigilant, wear a mask, follow CDC guidelines and other measures to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our communities.”
We warned you not to throw away your masks. Hopefully you didn’t. Wash them up.
Atlanta’s new executive order requires universal masking regardless of vaccination status “at all times when indoors” in a public space. Violating the executive order from Bottoms carries a potential $25 fine for a first offense and $50 fine for any repeat offenses.
New Mexico officials also said that citizens there are required to follow the CDC guidance. A June 30 order from the state says that New Mexicans “must follow” CDC guidance whenever it changes, even if people are vaccinated.
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“Now the CDC is saying that fully vaccinated individuals should return… to wearing a mask indoors when they’re outside their homes,” New Mexico Human Services Department Secretary David Scrase said. “The latest public health order … says New Mexicans should do what the CDC says we should do. So when the CDC makes a change like they have just now in masking guidance, that automatically becomes part of our public health order.”
“We warned you not to throw away your masks. Hopefully you didn’t. Wash them up,” Scrase added. “I bet they’re all washed and folded in your drawer. Get them out. Put one in your car.”
Multiple states also followed Atlanta’s and New Mexico’s suit in adopting the CDC guidelines, thought without attaching legal requirements – just strong recommendations. Such recommendations in recent weeks have often been precursors to full mandates. Among those states were California and New Jersey.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said that he is happy with how low his state’s coronavirus numbers are now. But if they increase, he warned, “we reserve the right to take more drastic action, including a statewide mask mandate.”
Illinois and Oregon are among other states that quickly adopted the CDC’s mask guidelines right after it announced the new guidance. Kansas City, Missouri and several other counties and cities, meanwhile, issued mask mandates.
These new mandates come despite the fact that coronavirus vaccines massively reduce the risk of severe illness, hospitalization and death from COVID-19 in all its variant forms. The vaccines also drastically shrink the risk of contracting and transmitting the virus.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said the reason for the change in its guidance was an increased presence of the virus in the nose and throat of people who are vaccinated and infected with the delta variant, compared to other breakthrough infections. But the CDC says it won’t release the data it used to make its recommendation until Friday.
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There are other places, however, that are resisting new mandates. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signaled they don’t plan to bring back mask mandates. And in New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and his top officials say they are waiting on actual data from the CDC, not just a decree.
“While the CDC issued their guidance yesterday at about 3 p.m., they have not yet released their scientific reports on the data that underlies their recommendation,” New York City Health and Hospitals President and CEO Mitchell Katz said at a Wednesday press conference with de Blasio.
“We’re assessing the information. What really is important is to assess the research behind it. Which is what our team is doing,” de Blasio added.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, meanwhile, is not even considering bringing back a mask mandate in Maryland.
“No new statewide mask mandates are being contemplated,” Hogan spokesman Mike Ricci told WYPR Wednesday. States like Nebraska, Florida and others – particularly those with Republican governors – have also explicitly rejected the CDC’s new recommendation.