The Delta variant has caused COVID cases to explode in the past month.
In light of COVID surges across the country, the CDC announced Tuesday that it's now recommending fully vaccinated individuals wear masks indoors in areas with higher COVID transmission rates.
Those areas that the CDC refers to cover roughly 66 percent of U.S. counties, according to CNN. The move was driven by the growing spread of the highly contagious Delta variant. On June 30, the seven-day average for COVID cases was 13,407, according to the CDC. On Sunday, that average increased to 42,226. As of Monday morning, 49.1 percent of the population was fully vaccinated and 56.8 percent have received at least one dose.
“As you have heard from me previously, this pandemic continues to pose a serious threat to the health of all Americans,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said on a conference call Tuesday afternoon. “Today, we have new science related to the Delta area that requires us to update the guidance regarding what you can do when you are fully vaccinated.”
It's a stark turnaround from May, when the organization said fully vaccinated people could resume normal activities without wearing masks or physically distancing and refrain from quarantine following a known exposure. At the time, the Delta variant accounted for 1 percent of infections, but now it accounts for at least 83 percent, CNN reported. A source also told the media outlet that vaccination rates are lower than expected and that transmission is more serious in areas where vaccination rates are below 40 percent.
Concerned about what effect this new policy may have on the food and beverage industry, the Independent Restaurant Coalition urged the Biden Administration and Congress to replenish the Restaurant Revitalization Fund. The program began with $28.6 billion, but quickly depleted and was unable to fill all requests. Since then, lawmakers have suggested new bills like the Restaurant Revitalization Fund Replenishment Act and ENTRÉE Act that would each add $60 billion to the fund. Restaurants and bars lost more than $280 billion during the pandemic.
“The pandemic is not over and local restaurants will continue to struggle to stay open,” said Erika Polmar, executive director of the Independent Restaurant Coalition, in a statement. “These small businesses are squeezed by rising supplier costs, consumer hesitancy, and 17 months of debt that they have accumulated. If Congress and the Biden Administration do not replenish the Restaurant Revitalization Fund soon, the next wave of the pandemic will only amplify the struggles facing thousands of neighborhood restaurants and bars. If these businesses do not receive the relief they need, there will be a new wave of restaurant and bar closures that will cost jobs, upend the supply chain, and permanently damage neighborhoods across the country.”
CDC's new standard is only a recommendation, so states and cities aren't required to follow, however jurisdictions across the country have brought back mask mandates and advisories. Los Angeles County reinstated its indoor mask mandate earlier in the month, including restaurants and bars. Additionally, all Bay Area counties have strongly urged all vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals to wear masks in indoor public places.
The San Francisco Bar Owner Alliance, which represents around 500 bars, made headlines Monday when it announced a new policy to require proof of vaccination and 72-hour negative COVID test before entry. The policy is voluntary, but SF Bar Owner Alliance President Ben Bleiman said 85 percent of bar owners are in favor of vaccine mandates, according to a survey.