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CDC Reverses Course, Recommends People Wear Masks Indoors Where COVID Rates Are High

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced new mask guidelines Tuesday afternoon.

The director says the Delta variant is outsmarting us, and now some vaccinated people are being encouraged to wear face coverings.

As CBS2's Dick Brennan reports, the virus is spiking in certain areas of the U.S. That's due, in part, to the more highly contagious Delta variant spreading across the country, and a slow rollout of the COVID vaccine in those areas.

"The Delta variant is showing every day its willingness to outsmart us and to be an opportunist in areas where we have not shown a fortified response against it," said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky.

So now the CDC is reversing itself, and is recommending that:

  • People living in areas where COVID is surging should wear masks in indoor public spaces
  • And it has issued a universal mask guideline for schools, K-12, that includes teachers, students, staff and visitors, regardless of vaccination status

The CDC director this has all become necessary because of new information about how the Delta variant behaves.

"In rare occasions, some vaccinated people infected with the Delta variant after vaccination may be contagious and spread the virus to others," Walensky said.

At the White House, Press Secretary Jen Psaki was asked why Americans should trust the same health officials now who said just two months ago that they don't have to wear masks inside.

"Because our goal is to save their lives, and our responsibility, and the responsibility of public health officials, is to continue to provide updated guidance if it warrants from an evolving virus," Psaki said.

So what, exactly, does this mean for people in our area? Brennan asked CBS2's Dr. Max Gomez, who said we still need to be cautious.

"No vaccine is 100% effective, so even though we in the New York area are vaccinated at much greater numbers than in other parts of the country, the combination of the Delta variant being much most transmissible, with many of us going unmasked in crowded indoor public settings like restaurants, means we could still be passing along a COVID infection," Gomez said.

Watch Dick Brennan's report

A map from the CDC where the rate of infection is high or substantial.

Parts of New York and New Jersey fall under that category, but the updated mask guidelines would not apply to Connecticut, where all areas are considered moderate.

Most people who spoke to CBS2's Jessica Layton are fine with masks making a comeback.

"We wanna just follow the instructions," Rasheed Gani, of Fair Lawn, said.

"It's a little bit scary," another person said.

"Some people still think there's gonna be a third wave," 12-year-old Tavia Gani said.

"Because you don't know, maybe somebody didn't get the vaccine," one woman said.

"We have to use the mask," another woman said.

They're frustrated those who refuse to follow science are setting them back.

Veronica Devash, who is visiting the Tri-State Area from Phoenix, says she won't get vaccinated or wear a mask ever.

"Masks don't even work. If it worked, they would've worked the first time around," she said.

"I think masking definitely helped us through some of those early months. Who knows where we would have been without masks?" pediatrician Dr. Jeff Bienstock said.

He's especially concerned about kids.

Last week saw the highest number of new COVID cases in children since May.

"Vaccinate and mask is the way to go," Bienstock said.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has issued a mandate that will require New York City workers be vaccinated, or tested twice a week.

Tuesday, we learned that five NYPD officers are hospitalized with COVID.

"Some quite serious condition, and all unvaccinated. So it's just a move that, you know, we're continuing to stress it - we're going to comply with the order and we're going to move forward," said Police Commissioner Dermot Shea.

President Joe Biden said he's considering requiring all federal workers get a vaccine. He also said on Thursday he will lay out the next steps in efforts to get more Americans vaccinated.

Watch John Dias' report

"Whatever happens with masks, the number one tool, the number one weapon, the number one savior is vaccinations," the mayor said Tuesday.

De Blasio stood by his word Tuesday, saying that getting more people vaccinated is the only way to move New York City forward.

"If you like recovery and rebirth for New York City, go get vaccinated," he said.


City employees who fail to meet the new vaccine mandate will be sent home without pay.

"It's been a long time coming. So I'm excited to see that this is where we're heading," NYC Health+Hospitals worker Janine Perazzo told CBS2's John Dias.

"The new variant could cause too many more problems," Maria Maglio-Scotti said.

"I'm vaccinated, so it doesn't bother me too much, but I do get the people that don't like it," said Shane Cloudea.

On Tuesday, California announced it will be checking proof of vaccination for all state employees, and the Department of Veterans Affairs became the first federal agency to require shots for its health care workers.


While many lawyers say private companies and governments are legally protected in mandating the vaccine, some business leaders warn it could come with problems.

"You're now getting into people's medical history and their privacy," Carl Gould, president of 7 Stage Advisors, told Dias. "People do have religious and philosophical principles that dictate whether or not they take a vaccine."

Gould is a worldwide leading authority on business. He says a mask mandate is much easier for private companies to handle than vaccine rules.

"To try to enforce a vaccine mandate for your employees is going to open a Pandora's box that you'll be sorting out in the courts for years to come," he said.

De Blasio has said he believes the city workforce vaccination rate is similar to the city's overall vaccination rate, where 71% of adults have at least one dose.

John Dias and Jessica Layton contributed to this report.

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