DALLAS - The CDC now says even fully vaccinated people should wear masks indoors in regions where there is substantial virus transmission.
That includes Texas, where COVID-19 surveillance shows substantial or high spread across much of the state in the most recent weekly report. Some key indicators, including the positivity rate and hospitalizations, are going up in several counties.
However, Gov. Greg Abbott reiterated on Tuesday that he will not impose another mask mandate.
(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
In a teleconference Tuesday afternoon, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky explained her agency’s decision to revise current guidance on masks for vaccinated people.
"The delta variant behaves uniquely differently from past strains of the virus that caused COVID-19," she said. "Information on the delta variant from several states and other countries indicate that in rare occasions, some vaccinated people infected with the delta variant after vaccination may be contagious and spread the virus to others."
The guidance extends to schools as well. The CDC is recommending masks for everyone in K-12, including fully vaccinated students, teachers and staff.
"Children should return to full-time in-person learning in the fall with proper prevention strategies in place," Dr. Walensky said.
Right now, there are over 1,20 hospitalizations in in the 19-county North Texas trauma region. A quarter of all adult ICU patients in North Texas have COVID-19.
Doctors say the increased transmission is being driven by the delta variant largely spread by the unvaccinated. They expect that trend to get worse if more people don’t get vaccinated.
In Tarrant County, more than 450 people are hospitalized with COVID-19 and are taking up more than 10% of current hospital bed space. At 15%, the state’s capacity restrictions on businesses kick in.
County officials say their hands are tied on mask mandates. Instead, they are concentrating effort on vaccinations.
"The governor’s last three orders made it plain: there’s nothing we can do locally," said Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley. "So at this point in time, we’re watching the numbers increase. We’re still far away from the 15%, which were the old triggers. But at this point in time, we’re just trying to encourage everybody to get the vaccine."
Dallas County Medical Society President Dr. Beth Kassanoff-Piper says she’s been recommending her vaccinated patients wear masks for weeks.
"The delta variant is such a game-changer. It's completely different than what we've seen before," she said. "And there are so many people who were still not vaccinated in our communities."
But medical professionals continue to stress unvaccinated people make up most of local hospitalizations.
"I think the new information we have about the delta variant, people really need to pay attention to this," Dr. Beth Kassanoff said. "This is something that is awful for our community and for our hospitals. We're seeing the emergency rooms fill up. Hospitals are talking about reopening their COVID wards. Unvaccinated people need to be really paying attention to this."
Tarrant County officials say though hospitalizations are rising, they are still seeing half the number of hospitalizations the county had this time last year, thanks to the vaccine.
But what does that mean for big box stores like Target or Walmart who aren’t currently requiring masks but strongly recommending them?
Gary Huddleston with the Texas Retailers Association says stores may have to reconsider their policies.
"It does put the retailer in somewhat of a bind," he said.
But Huddleston warns customers could be resistant to wearing masks again or avoid the stores altogether.
"Customers could decide that they are going to do more online shopping and delivery," he said.
Back in May, Gov. Abbott signed an executive order prohibiting mask mandates by local governments, and he ended mask mandates in schools at the start of June.
The governor tweeted on Tuesday that "Every Texan has the right to choose whether they will wear a mask or have their children wear masks."
But Huddleston says in a private business, the owners still have the final say.
""In our belief, the retailer that wants to make that decision, can make that decision," he said. "Our retailers are going to do everything possible to have a safe environment for our customers."