Why some places in the US are considering mask mandates again

Jul 20, 2021

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Masks are still required on airplanes, trains and in airports. But with more Americans getting vaccinated against COVID-19, the U.S.’s health agency dropped mask mandates for fully vaccinated Americans. States and cities also loosened or dropped restrictions this spring.

Still, the delta variant has many concerned. The variant, first discovered in India, is now the dominant strain in the U.S. and makes up 83% of positive cases in the country. It has been detected in more than 100 countries and is considered more contagious.

Worldwide, more than 4 million people have died from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. In the U.S., while half of Americans are fully vaccinated, unvaccinated pockets have contributed to a worrying surge of positive cases.

And even as the delta variant spreads, health organizations in the U.S. and abroad have recently offered conflicting mask guidance. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last month doubled down on its earlier recommendation that fully vaccinated Americans — those who received their final dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at least two weeks prior — could go maskless. That came after the World Health Organization warned that even fully vaccinated individuals should still wear a mask.

But some states and cities in the U.S. are imposing their own mask mandates out of concern for the delta variant. Here’s what you need to know.

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Los Angeles

MacArthur Park and downtown LA in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Los Angeles County’s Department of Public Health on July 15 reissued a mask mandate following a rise in COVID-19 cases tied to the delta variant. Everyone in the county — vaccinated or not — will be required to wear a face mask while indoors in public settings or businesses.

Los Angeles County, the nation’s largest by population, has recorded over 1.2 million cases of the coronavirus and nearly 25,000 deaths, according to a Johns Hopkins University tracker.

New York City

The coronavirus slammed into New York City early in the pandemic, but after mounting an aggressive vaccination campaign, Mayor Bill de Blasio declared the city “fully reopened.”

New York City Council Health Committee Chairman Mark Levine favors reimposing a mask mandate as cases in the city rise.

“I think there’s something to be said for mask solidarity — if we are all doing it, it becomes the natural thing. But if you leave it up to an honor system, pretty soon no one is wearing a mask,” Levine said, according to NBC New York. “We need to act now to slow what could be another wave. Before we see hospitalizations and heaven forbid, deaths.”

But de Blasio said the city wouldn’t require face masks indoors.

“No. Simple answer is no,” de Blasio said, according to The New York Times. “Masks have value, unquestionably. But masks are not going at the root of the problem. Vaccination is.”

San Francisco Bay Area

(Photo by Andrew Wille/Getty Images)

Parts of the Bay Area on July 16 recommended that everyone, including fully vaccinated individuals, wear masks indoors at public places as the delta variant spreads in the region.

The counties of Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Sonoma and the City of Berkeley made the recommendation “out of an abundance of caution.” Still, they said they would revisit the issue in the coming weeks.

“The Delta variant is spreading quickly, and everyone should take action to protect themselves and others against this potentially deadly virus,” said Dr. Lisa B. Hernandez, the City of Berkeley health officer, in a statement. “After vaccination, masking is the next most powerful tool we have to protect ourselves and each other during this latest wave of infections.”

Arkansas

(Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed a law this spring that bans the state from issuing new mask mandates. The law, which doesn’t apply to private businesses, was reportedly signed during a drop in cases in the state, according to local news station THV 11.

But some politicians think the law should be revisited, as cases have sharply increased this summer. The state has a 27.5% daily positive rate on a seven-day moving average, and just 36% of Arkansans are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

“Yeah, it was a bad idea,” said Michael John Gray, chairman of the Democratic Party of Arkansas, according to KATV. “I don’t like it, I don’t like things shut down, I don’t like capacity, but if that’s what we have to do to make sure we’re all year this time next year.”

The state’s Republican party told the station in a statement that residents “should do what is best for their health and their family’s health.”

New Jersey

The boardwalk in Ocean City, New Jersey. (Photo by Jon Lovette/Getty Images)

New Jersey’s governor on July 20 warned that if more residents didn’t get vaccinated, he would bring back a mask mandate.

Gov. Phil Murphy told CNBC he hoped a mask mandate wouldn’t be necessary but also said, “If we have to, we will.”

“The variants are all over our state,” he said. “I would beg people to get vaccinated, and if they do so, it doesn’t mean that you can’t get COVID. But it does mean, overwhelmingly, you’re going to stay out of the hospital and please God stay alive.”

Nearly 60% of residents are fully vaccinated, but new daily cases are on the rise, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Featured photo by Dennis Fischer Photography/Getty Images.

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