Officials in Los Angeles County on Monday urged residents to don masks once more when they are inside public spaces, citing the rapid spread of the highly transmissible delta variant of COVID-19 around the nation.
The updated guidance comes despite residents’ vaccination status and reflects the seriousness of the strain, which has already become the dominant variant of the virus in the United Kingdom. Top health officials have predicted it will soon become the dominant strain in the U.S., too. (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last week it currently makes up about 20% of newly diagnosed cases, up from about 10% just a week prior.)
“While COVID-19 vaccine provides very effective protection preventing hospitalizations and deaths against the delta variant, the strain is proving to be more transmissible and is expected to become more prevalent,” Barbara Ferrer, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, said in a statement. “Mask wearing remains an effective tool for reducing transmission, especially indoors where the virus may be easily spread through inhalation of aerosols emitted by an infected person.”
The delta variant has now been found in 49 states and at least 85 countries, and the World Health Organization also said it was deeply worried about the strain this week. The group urged fully vaccinated people to continue wearing masks to prevent infection.
State and local guidance shifts have recently allowed vaccinated Californians to remove their face coverings in most situations, although unvaccinated people are still required to wear them. Public health officials noted Monday that fully vaccinated people “appear to be well protected from infections with delta variants” but added that those who have had just one shot are still at high risk.
Just under 50% of Californians are fully vaccinated and about 61% have received at least one jab.
“If you aren’t fully vaccinated, your mask is one of the most powerful tools you have to protect yourself and other unvaccinated people,” the L.A. Department of Public Health said Monday. “This is especially true when you are in an indoor or crowded outdoor space.”
Infection rates and deaths from COVID-19 have fallen in recent months as the country’s vaccination program gained speed, and almost all of the U.S.’s deaths related to the pandemic are now among unvaccinated people, The Associated Press reported last week. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious diseases expert in the country, urged Americans to get vaccinated when he warned the public about the delta variant earlier this month.
“The delta variant is currently the greatest threat in the U.S. to our attempt to eliminate COVID-19,” Fauci said at a news briefing last week. “We have the tools, so let’s use them and crush the outbreak.”
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