Administration

White House instructs agencies to mandate masks indoors in DC

The White House has instructed federal agencies in Washington, D.C., and other areas where there is a high degree of community transmission of the coronavirus to require employees, contractors and visitors to wear masks indoors regardless of their vaccination status.

The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) sent a memo to agencies Tuesday evening with the new instructions after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its mask guidance saying fully vaccinated Americans should wear face coverings indoors in areas of the country where there is "substantial" or "high" transmission.

Those who are not vaccinated have previously been told to wear masks. 

"In areas of substantial or high community transmission, agencies must require all Federal employees, onsite contractors, and visitors, regardless of vaccination status, to wear a mask inside of Federal buildings," states the memo, written by OMB deputy director for management Jason Miller and obtained by The Hill. "As of today, that includes the Washington, DC area."

OMB said that federal agencies should be implementing the new guidance no later than Wednesday morning. The memo encouraged agencies to post signs and information on agency websites that specify what mask requirements apply in specific federal facilities.

Federal employees, contractors and visitors who are not yet fully vaccinated are still urged to physically distance in federal buildings, the memo stresses.

The new CDC guidance was already implemented in the White House after it was announced Tuesday, with staff and reporters instructed to wear face masks indoors.

In announcing the updated guidelines, CDC officials cited data showing that vaccinated individuals who contract the delta variant can spread it. The delta variant became the dominant strain of coronavirus in the U.S. earlier this month.

The new guidance represents a significant shift from May, when the agency advised that Americans who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can go without masks in most settings.

"Something has changed and what has changed is the virus," Anthony Fauci said on MSNBC on Wednesday morning. "The CDC hasn't changed and the CDC hasn't really flip-flopped at all."

Public health experts maintain that the vaccines are still effective in preventing severe illness from the virus, including the delta variant, but there have been reports of "breakthrough" cases in which vaccinated people are testing positive for the virus. Their symptoms tend to be mild.

Currently, 69 percent of American adults have received at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine. Health officials are urging Americans who have not yet gotten the shot to do so as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, President Biden is expected to announce Thursday that federal employees and contractors will be required to get vaccinated or be subject to regular testing for COVID-19.

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