Screenshot taken on 7.27.21 of the CDC’s transmission map
With the Delta variant and low vaccination rates causing some states to see record-high Covid rates, it was almost inevitable that the CDC would reverse its May guidance that vaccinated individuals can remove their masks indoors. And today, the federal agency issued new guidance that says even those fully vaccinated should “wear a mask indoors in public” in areas “of substantial or high transmission.” While New York City’s infection rates and hospitalizations remain much lower than a lot of the country, we are not immune to Delta’s effect, and all NYC counties fall within the CDC’s high-risk zones.
Screenshot taken on 7.27.21 of the CDC’s transmission chart
The chart above outlines how the CDC defines its transmission areas. Currently, 46.43 percent of all U.S. counties fall into high transmission, while 17.02 percent are substantial. Most of New York State is low or moderate, but Staten Island is high and all other NYC counties (Queens, Kings, Bronx, New York) are substantial, as are Nassau and Suffolk counties on Long Island.
The CDC’s guidance also recommends “universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to schools, regardless of vaccination status.” NYC schools are fully reopening, without a remote option, on September 13. The city had already said that, in accordance with the CDC, they will require masks in school buildings and maintain a three-foot social distancing rule.
So far, Mayor de Blasio has been adamant that he will not reinstate an indoor mask mandate for vaccinated individuals, explaining that he feels it would actually deter people from getting the vaccine if they haven’t already. When asked in a press conference on Wednesday about the CDC’s new recommendations, he said his office is currently assessing the new information.
Governor Cuomo has similarly veered away from such action, though he did say in a press conference on Wedensday that his office is reviewing the CDC’s new recommendations closely in consultation with federal and state health experts. A state mask mandate would supersede a city policy.
In neighboring New Jersey, where seven of the state’s 21 counties are in the substantial transmission category and one is high, Governor Murphy announced that he and NJ Department of Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli “strongly recommend that both vaccinated and unvaccinated residents wear masks in indoor settings when there is increased risk.” Per the governor, these settings include crowded indoor settings, those involving activities with close contact with others who may not be fully vaccinated, those where the vaccine status of others is unknown, those where an individual is immunocompromised or at increased risk for severe disease.
“Fortunately, our numbers are a fraction of those in many other states, most of which have significantly lower vaccination rates. Should our numbers reach those levels, we reserve the right to take more drastic action, including a statewide mask mandate,” Governor Murphy said.
This week, Mayor de Blasio announced that all municipal employees, including teachers and members of the NYPD and FDNY, will be required to either show proof of vaccination or participate in weekly Covid tests by September 13. Those who remain unvaccinated will have to wear a mask indoors.
And on Wednesday, Governor Cuomo announced that all workers employed by New York State will be required to be vaccinated or get tested on a regular basis. He also implemented an even more stringent mandate for state hospitals, where all patient-facing healthcare workers must now be vaccinated, with no test option offered.
These mandates come as President Joe Biden plans to announce all federal employees and contractors must be vaccinated or submit to testing.
You can explore the CDC’s map here >>
Editor’s Note: This story was updated on 7.28.21 with new information.
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