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Requirements of masking, vaccination reinstated in US amid surging COVID-19 variant cases

Xinhua | Updated: 2021-08-04 09:17
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A person wears a mask as they shop at a store in Union Station on July 30, 2021 in Washington, DC. [Photo/Agencies]

NEW YORK - Strict requirements of masking and vaccination have been reimposed by federal and municipal governments as well as business entities across the United States, as the COVID-19 pandemic is making a comeback with its Delta variant.

"The national outlook is worsening quickly, with a fourfold increase in new cases per day over the last month. Hospitalizations and deaths are also growing, but at far lower rates than cases," reported The New York Times (NYT) on Tuesday.

According to the figures updated on NYT's website, the country's new daily COVID-19 cases rose to 85,866 on Monday, while the 14-day change was a 142 percent increase. The coronavirus deaths were 341 on Monday, while the 14-day change was a 27 percent rise.

"The United States has reached yet another turning point in this pandemic -- one that may feel particularly unrelenting and confusing," reported National Public Radio (NPR) on Tuesday.

On Sunday, Anthony Fauci, the country's top infectious disease expert, described himself as being "very frustrated" over the current situation of the pandemic. The United States was in an "unnecessary predicament" of soaring case counts, and was "going in the wrong direction," he said.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has updated guidance to return to masking indoors, despite vaccination status, after finding that even vaccinated individuals can spread the Delta variant of COVID-19, but the guidance is directed at regions with a spread of the virus that is considered "substantial" or "high".

"Unvaccinated people: get vaccinated and wear a mask until you do. Everyone in areas of substantial or high transmission should wear a mask, even if they are vaccinated," said the CDC in its latest post on Facebook.

The cases of Delta variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 are surging in the United States. New data show Delta is different than past versions of the virus -- it is much more contagious. While rare, some vaccinated people can get Delta in a breakthrough infection and may be contagious, it added.

Across the country, the total COVID-19 cases have reached 35,170,544 while the total death stood at 614,020 as of Tuesday afternoon, according to figures updated by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University (JHU).

Meanwhile, 70 percent of US adults have had at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine, showed data published on Monday by the CDC. The milestone came about a month behind US President Joe Biden's Fourth of July goal.

New York, ahead of most other American cities, will require people to show proof of vaccination for indoor activities, such as dining, gyms and events, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Tuesday, adding that the new policy will be phased in the coming weeks and implemented on Aug 16. By the week of Sept 13, the city will begin inspections and enforcement.

The move is an effort to increase the number of people vaccinated, he said. "That is the key to protecting people and the key to recovery."

"The only way to patronize these establishments indoors will be if you're vaccinated, at least one dose," de Blasio said at a Tuesday morning press conference.

In contrast, New York State will not implement new statewide mask rules and leave the decisions on mask mandates to local governments. However, Governor Andrew Cuomo has urged local officials to follow new guidance on masks from the CDC.

On Monday, the US Department of Veterans Affairs announced that it will require the agency's frontline healthcare workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19, making it the first federal agency to mandate compulsory inoculation.

Facebook will begin requiring all of its employees to wear masks when on its campuses in the United States, regardless of an employee's vaccination status. The new policy goes into effect on Wednesday and will remain in effect until further notice.

"The health and safety of our employees and neighbors in the community remains our top priority," a spokeswoman for the company said in a statement on Monday. "Given the rising numbers of COVID-19 cases, the newest data on COVID-19 variants, and an increasing number of local requirements, we are reinstating our mask requirement in all of Facebook's US offices, regardless of an employee's vaccination status."

The company isn't alone in the tech industry in reinstating health safety measures as COVID-19 cases pick up again as a result of the Delta variant.

Google last week announced that it will require employees on campus to be vaccinated and postponed its return to office plans until October. Apple also pushed back its return to office plans to October at the earliest, according to a report last month.

Microsoft has informed employees that it will require proof of vaccination for anyone entering a Microsoft building in the United States starting in September. Employees who have a medical condition or a protected reason that prevents them from getting a vaccine can get a special accommodation. The company has also pushed its full office reopening date from September to "no earlier than Oct 4, 2021".

After more than 18 months of the COVID-19 pandemic, a substantial chunk of the US population continued to assert their own individual liberties over the common good by refusing mask or vaccination, which should be reversed as soon as possible, said USA Today on Tuesday.

Sociologists, legal scholars, public health experts and philosophers wonder at what point individual rights should yield to the public interest, the newspaper said in a report, referring to how many COVID-19 deaths can change the mind of these Americans.

"Today, millions of US residents shun vaccines that have proven highly effective and resist masks that ward off infection, fiercely opposing government restrictions. Others clamor for regulation, arguing that those who take no precautions are violating their rights -- threatening the freedom to live of everyone they expose," it added.

Also on Tuesday, The Washington Post quoted Joseph G. Allen, an associate professor and director of the Healthy Buildings program at Harvard University's T.H. Chan School of Public Health, as saying that the US vaccination campaign has hit a wall with its voluntary approach, and the only way out of the COVID-19 morass is to mandate vaccines.

First and foremost, the expert stressed, US hospitals and health-care clinics must mandate vaccinations as nearly 60 top health-care organizations called for in July. Currently, only 45 percent of aides in long-term care and health-care facilities are vaccinated, according to the CDC's figures.

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