What the CDC’s Updated Mask Guidance Means for Retail Stores and the Return to Offices

Less than two months after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidance saying people who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 do not need to wear masks in most indoor and outdoor spaces, the federal health agency is expected to reverse course on Tuesday and advise more cautious measures.

The updated guidance, details of which are expected to be shared Tuesday afternoon, will likely recommend that fully vaccinated people resume wearing masks indoors in places with high rates of transmission.

The news comes amid concerns about the Delta variant, a more contagious form of the coronavirus, causing new waves of cases around the country. While vaccines have been shown to be highly effective in protecting against severe illness and death, even in the face of the Delta variant, breakthrough cases of mild or asymptomatic COVID-19 have been on the rise, suggesting that even those who are fully vaccinated can still spread the virus to others.

The trend is especially troubling given disappointing vaccination trends in certain areas of the U.S.: Less than 50% of the country’s total population is fully vaccinated, and in states where cases are spiking, such as Alabama and Louisiana, vaccine uptake is especially low, with 34% and 37% of residents fully vaccinated, respectively.

Given these trends, some companies are reconsidering their plans to bring workers back to the office, and some retailers are re-instituting mask policies in stores. Apple, for one, is once again strongly urging employees to wear masks in its stores, and has pushed back its office reopening from September to October at the earliest, according to Bloomberg; the tech giant dropped its mask requirement for vaccinated customers in mid-June.

While most private employers have been reluctant to require their workers to get vaccinated, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio recently encouraged them to do so.

It’s up to states and local authorities to impose mask rules, and several counties and municipalities across the country have re-instituted their mask mandates amid rising cases. Some companies, too, are again requiring indoor masking for all employees and customers in areas with high rates of transmission.

On Sunday, White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci called the CDC’s mask guidance a “dynamic” situation.

“It’s a work in progress. It evolves like in so many other areas of the pandemic,” Fauci told CNN. “You’ve got to look at the data.”

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