Surgeon General Says He Anticipates More Local Mask Mandates In Areas With Low Vaccination

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said on July 16 that the coronavirus “is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated.”

US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy speaks during a press briefing in the White House in Washington, D.C., on July 15, 2021. | Getty Images
US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy speaks during a press briefing in the White House in Washington, D.C., on July 15, 2021. | Getty Images

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said Sunday that he anticipates more local mask mandates “in areas where there are low numbers of vaccinated people or where cases are rising,” such as LA County.

As of Saturday, people in LA County are required to wear a mask indoors regardless of vaccination status as the more easily transmissible Delta variant is causing COVID-19 cases in the county to surge. 

“I’m not pleased that we have to go back to using the mask in this manner, but nonetheless it's going to save lives,” Hilda Solis, the chair of the LA County Board of Supervisors, said on Sunday on ABC News. "And right now, that to me is what's most important. And really getting more people to understand that they have to get vaccinated,” she continued. 

As of Sunday, the seven-day average case positivity rate in LA County was 4%, up from a rate of below 0% in May and early June but much lower than the rate last winter when there was a surge in cases.

In May, the Centers for Disease Control said people who are fully vaccinated don’t have to wear a mask indoors or outdoors but advised people to follow local guidelines.

“I think when you see counties like LA putting those kind of requirements in place, they're basing their data and their decisions off of what we learned over the last year about what constitutes a high-risk setting,” Dr. Murthy said.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said on July 16 that the coronavirus “is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated.”

“We are seeing outbreaks of cases in parts of the country that have low vaccination coverage because unvaccinated people are at risk, and communities that are fully vaccinated are generally fairing well,” Dr. Walensky said.

According to a New York Times analysis, 24 of the 25 counties in the U.S. that saw the most dramatic uptick in cases in the last week had vaccinated less than 40% of its residents.

Dr. Walensky added that those who are fully vaccinated are protected against “severe COVID, hospitalization, and death” and that the vaccines work against all known COVID-19 variants, including the Delta variant.

Rarely, there are infections that occur in people who are fully vaccinated — also known as breakthrough infections — but Dr. Murthy said those cases are more likely to be asymptomatic or mild.

“That's really good news that continues to tell us that these vaccines are highly effective, and that's one of the reasons we are recommending them for people across the country,” Dr. Murthy said.

Nearly 57% of people ages 12 and up in the U.S. have been fully vaccinated, according to the CDC, and 65.5% have received at least one dose.