• The agency also said everyone should wear masks in schools.
  • Multiple states are seeing triple-digit increases in case numbers.
  • Experts say vaccines are still the best weapon against the pandemic.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it’s time for fully vaccinated people to return to wearing masks indoors in areas where cases are surging.

And the agency says everyone in schools should mask up, including teachers, students and staff.

The CDC made the announcement Tuesday afternoon revising previous guidance and citing rising case numbers and new information that shows vaccinated people can in rare cases spread the highly contagious delta variant.

“In areas with substantial and high transmission, CDC recommends fully vaccinated people wear masks in public indoor settings to help prevent the spread of the delta variant,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the agency, said in a news briefing.

The latest COVID-19 tracking map from the CDC on Tuesday evening showed 20 states categorized as having a high level of community transmission, including nearly all of the southeastern quarter of the country and much of the western region. Two of the most heavily populated states in the country, Texas and Florida, are both shown in red.

(MORE: Millions of Surplus COVID Vaccines Set to Expire Without Solutions)

The CDC announcement walks back guidance issued in May, which said it was OK for fully vaccinated people to forego masking in most indoor settings. That move came after months of increased vaccination rates and declining case counts across the country.

But since then, infection rates have risen in every state, with many seeing triple-digit increases in recent weeks.

“The delta variant is showing every day its ability to outsmart us,” Walensky said.

While infections, hospitalizations and deaths still remain well below peak levels seen in late 2020 and early 2021, cases nationwide have gone up by 144% in the past two weeks, according to data tracked by the New York Times. Hospitalizations rose 72%.

Eighty-three percent of new cases were attributed to the delta variant as of July 22.

This graphic from the CDC shows states with high levels of community transmission of COVID-19 in red.

(U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Walensky noted that while the new mask guidelines are intended to help stop the spread, vaccines remain the most potent weapon against the pandemic.

“The highest spread of case and severe outcomes is happening in places with low vaccination rates,” she said.

Nationwide vaccination rates peaked in April and have declined steadily ever since, according to the CDC’s COVID data tracker. About 49% of people in the U.S. are fully vaccinated.

Many states with the highest surges in cases also have vaccination rates below the national average, and White House officials said earlier this month that 97% of those being hospitalized were not vaccinated.

It remains to be seen how the new guidelines will affect anti-mask mandates issued by some governors.

(MORE: COVID-19 Outbreak Among Firefighters Battling Oregon Wildfire)

Some large cities and school districts had already reinstated masking policies before the Tuesday announcement, including the cities of Los Angeles and St. Louis and schools in Atlanta. Mayors in cities like Savannah, Georgia, and Orlando, Florida, are raising the alarm over increased cases.

Scientists are, too.

“Nobody wants to go backward but you have to deal with the facts on the ground, and the facts on the ground are that it’s a pretty scary time and there are a lot of vulnerable people,” Robert Wachter, chairman of the department of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, told the Washington Post. “I think the biggest thing we got wrong was not anticipating that 30 percent of the country would choose not to be vaccinated.”

January 2021 was the deadliest month of the pandemic so far in the U.S, with an average of more than 3,100 people dying each day, according to the Post.

In all, there have been more than 34.5 million confirmed COVID-19 infections in the U.S. over the past 17 months, according to Johns Hopkins University. More than 600,000 nationwide are known to have died from the disease.

Worldwide, nearly 200 million people have been infected and more than 4 million have died.

For the latest coronavirus information in your county and a full list of important resources to help you make the smartest decisions regarding the disease, check out our dedicated COVID-19 page.

The Weather Company’s primary journalistic mission is to report on breaking weather news, the environment and the importance of science to our lives. This story does not necessarily represent the position of our parent company, IBM.

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