(CNN)With the highly contagious Delta variant spreading, particularly among unvaccinated Americans, it may be time to hit the “reset button” on pandemic response and for much of the country to put their masks back on, an expert said.
“We are at a very different point in the pandemic than we were a month ago,” Dr. Leana Wen told CNN’s Jim Acosta Tuesday. “And therefore, we should follow the example of LA County and say that if there are places where vaccinated and unvaccinated people are mixing, then indoor mask mandates should still apply.”
Los Angeles County reinstated a mask mandate over the weekend, requiring masking indoors regardless of vaccination status.
Wen, a CNN medical analyst, said there are two exceptions to the occasions she thinks people should be wearing masks indoors in public: when everyone is vaccinated and has provided proof or if there is a very high level of community vaccination.
Ideally, mask mandates would be in place while leaders move toward methods of proving vaccination status to boost vaccination rates, said Wen, an emergency physician and visiting professor of health policy and management at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health.
But about 22% of the US population, or nearly 73 million people, lives in a county considered to have “high” Covid-19 transmission, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Only 48.7% of the total US population is fully vaccinated against the virus, according to the CDC — a number far below the 70 to 85% health experts have estimated it would take to slow or stop the spread.
With such low vaccination rates, cases are surging in 47 states, with the seven-day average of new cases at least 10% higher than the week before, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. On Monday, US Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra signed a renewal of the public health emergency status due to Covid-19 for another 90 days, as some states are seeing particularly worrying impacts of the pandemic.
The current rise of cases may continue to put pressure on the health care system in Mississippi, state officials warned.
“We are going to have a rough few weeks, Delta is hitting us very strongly,” State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said Tuesday. “We’re gonna watch people needlessly die over the next month or two, for no good reason.”
Child cases of Covid-19 nearly double since late June
While the virus spreads among unvaccinated adults, children — many of whom are not yet eligible to be vaccinated — are feeling the impacts.
“It doesn’t look like this virus is selectively targeting children,” Dr. Peter Hotez, professor and dean of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine told CNN’s Erin Burnett. “It’s just that so many unvaccinated individuals are getting Delta, that children are getting swept up along with it.”
Last week, more than 23,000 kids caught Covid-19, which is nearly double what was reported at the end of June, the American Academy of Pediatrics reported Tuesday. Children represent nearly 16% of weekly reported cases.
And though children are at a lower risk to develop serious illness from Covid-19 than older adults, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky pushed back on claims that they are not being affected.
“One thing I just want to note with the children is, I think we fall into this flawed thinking of saying that only 400 of these 600,000 deaths from COVID-19 have been in children,” Walensky said. “Children are not supposed to die. And so, 400 is a huge amount for respiratory season.”
Currently, the youngest population eligible for vaccinations is 12-year-olds, though studies are underway to provide protection to younger children.
It is “very likely” that data about Covid-19 vaccines in children under 12 may be available by early winter, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci has said.
And when they do become available, Fauci said he would not be surprised if schools considered including Covid-19 vaccines as a required immunization.
If the pandemic is completely crushed and stays away with very little activity, then he said he doesn’t think school Covid-19 vaccinations will be required. However, if moving forward this year and next year, there is a still a problem with coronavirus, “it very well might be required,” Fauci said on CBS This Morning Tuesday.
Workplaces begin to mandate vaccinations
Many experts have suggested local vaccination mandates could be an important strategy for boosting the vaccination rate and bringing the virus under control.
Starting in August, workers at New York City hospitals and health clinics will be required to either get vaccinated or take weekly Covid-19 tests, according to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s press secretary, Bill Neidhardt.
Eleven public hospitals are part of the initiative.
Additionaly, Banner Health, a nonprofit health service that is the largest private employer in Arizona, is requiring employees to be vaccinated against Covid-19 in order to keep their jobs.
“With limited exceptions, all team members have until November 1 to be fully vaccinated,” the company said Tuesday in a news release.
Banner Health cited the rise of the Delta variant as a reason for the mandate, along with the need to prepare for the upcoming flu season. The company says specifics about how employees could request an exemption to the requirement will be released later.
“We are taking this step to reduce risk for our patients, their families, visitors and each other,” President and CEO Peter Fine said in a written statement. “Safety is an absolute top priority and the COVID vaccine mandate reflects that commitment.”
Banner Health said it employs about 52,000 people in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nebraska, Nevada and Wyoming.
Such measures could become more common when the vaccines get full FDA authorization, experts have said.
Despite the vaccination push, a poll published Tuesday by Axios-Ipsos showed a majority of unvaccinated Americans said they are not at all likely to get vaccinated — regardless of outreach efforts.
CNN’s Deidre McPhillips and Michael Nedelman, Jacqueline Howard, Hayley Simonson, Lauren Mascarenhas, Jen Christensen, Virginia Langmaid, Naomi Thomas and Mark Morales contributed to this report.

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