The US may be headed into a “dangerous fall” health officials are warning, due in part because of a rise in delta variant COVID-19 cases and low vaccination rates. As vaccination rates stall and new cases trend upward, experts are warning that pandemic guidelines like indoor mask mandates may need to be reimplemented for everybody, vaccinated and unvaccinated people.
“I could foresee that in certain parts of the country, there could be a reintroduction of indoor mask mandates, distancing and occupancy limits,” Lawrence Gostin, director of the World Health Organization’s Collaborating Center on National and Global Health Law told CNBC.
“We are heading for a very dangerous fall, with large swaths of the country still unvaccinated, a surging delta variant and people taking off their masks,” Gostin added.
Vaccination rates have lagged behind in several Southern states, prompting the warnings from health officials about potential “major outbreaks” in these areas. According to CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, about 1,000 counties –– mostly located in the Southeast and Midwest –– have a vaccination rate of less than 30%. Walensky said an increased rate of infections has already been seen in these areas, due in part to the increased spread of the highly transmissible delta variant.
New COVID-19 infections have dropped to their lowest levels since the start of the pandemic, averaging 15,000 new cases a day –– compared to nearly 251,000 new daily cases in January. However, health officials say the risk of a surge is still possible. According to reports, nearly all of the new COVID-19 deaths and hospitalizations are people who are not vaccinated.
There will be “two Americas,” Dr. Paul Offit, pediatrician and vaccine advocate, who served on panels with the CDC and FDA said. “There is the vaccinated America and the unvaccinated America, and I think the unvaccinated America is about to pay a price for that.”
Mississippi has issued a recommendation to reimpose indoor mask mandates as vaccination rates there are low and majority of the state’s new COVID-19 cases are among unvaccinated people. Some health officials recommend even fully vaccinated people wear masks in places where vaccination rates are low. Officials acknowledged that getting people to put their masks back on might be tough.
"Given pandemic fatigue, it is going to be harder to get most Americans to follow guidance on mask use and social distancing," Dr. Christopher J.L. Murray told the outlet. "When cases and hospitalizations begin to surge again, potentially not until the fall or winter, then it may be easier to persuade some to take measures to be careful," he added.
For the latest on the pandemic, vaccination rates, check out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention by clicking here.