Health officials in the St. Louis area are now advising residents, regardless of vaccination status, to mask up while indoors amid rapid spread of the Delta COVID-19 variant. In an advisory posted Thursday, the St. Louis County Department of Public Health and the City of St. Louis Department of Health cited new cases rising among the unvaccinated and children.
The advisory called for face coverings in indoor public settings where other people are present, and only removing masks when eating, drinking or “when you know that others around you have been fully vaccinated.”
Officials advised assuming that “1 in 3 people in any crowd or gathering may be unvaccinated,” and to be aware that kids under 12 “will be unvaccinated and vulnerable in crowds to being exposed to COVID-19.”
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), also said about 1,000 counties in the U.S. have vaccination rates below 30%, with all officials on the call stating that vaccinations are the most effective method of protection against these variants. She said the majority of low vaccination rates are occurring in the Midwest and Southeast. Missouri is one of 14 states on the lower end of vaccination rates in the U.S.
Just shy of 5 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in the state, translating to roughly 39.1% of the population who are fully vaccinated. The daily average of shots given has seen drastic declines from peaks seen in the spring, with 3,770 recorded on June 30, compared to 84,367 given out April 9.
“There are communities that are vulnerable and where we are now seeing surges in cases, and indeed also hospitalizations, due to what could be the spread of the Delta variant and low vaccination rates in these communities,” Walensky said.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has also recently advised returning to mask requirements while indoors due to the rise of the Delta variant. Los Angeles is recommending returning to masks indoors as well.
But on Thursday, Dr. Anthony Fauci reiterated during a White House COVID-19 Response Team press briefing that the CDC guidance for vaccinated people, which states that they do not need a mask while indoors or outdoors, “remains unchanged.” However, he called it a “broad recommendation” and said “you can make general guidelines, but you also have to be flexible enough at various levels – be it a country level, or within a country at local levels.”
Jeff Zients, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator, also said the government is sending “surge response teams” to areas considered hotspots.