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New guidance from the U.S. government set off a cascade of mask rules across the country on Wednesday as cities, states, schools and businesses raced to restore mandates and others pushed back against the guidelines when Americans are already exhausted and confused over constantly shifting pandemic measures.
Nevada and Kansas City were among the locations that moved swiftly to reimpose indoor mask mandates following Tuesday’s announcement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But governors in Arizona, Pennsylvania and South Carolina said they would resist reversing course.
The federal recommendations quickly plunged Americans into another emotionally charged debate over the face coverings meant to curb easy transmission of the deadly coronavirus.
In Florida, a Broward County School Board meeting devolved into a screaming match between irate parents and board members on Tuesday. Some protesters even took to burning face masks outside the building.
In suburban Atlanta, Jamie Reinhold said she would pull her kids from school if the district stuck to the CDC’s guidance, which the 52-year-old believes takes the country “backward” and damages confidence in the vaccines.
“If you believe in the masks, go ahead, but don’t try to tell me what to do for my child’s health and safety and immune system,” she said. “It’s my child. It’s my choice.”
And in New Orleans, Lisa Beaudean said she was not convinced mask mandates would inspire the unvaccinated — who account for most new infections — to take the virus seriously and get inoculated.
“I’m very frustrated,” the St. Louis woman said as she strolled the French Quarter without a mask. “For the last 18 months, I’ve done everything I’m supposed to do, and there are no repercussions for those who haven’t done what they’re supposed to do.”
Elsewhere, Ford Motor Co., said it would reinstate face mask protocols for all employees and visitors at its Missouri and Florida facilities. The two states are among the hardest hit by the summer surge in which the U.S. is now averaging more than 60,000 new cases a day, driven by the highly contagious delta variant.
Google also postponed a planned Sept. 1 return to the office for most of its more than 130,000 employees until mid-October, following a similar move by Apple. Google said Wednesday that it will also eventually require everyone on staff to be vaccinated, a mandate that President Joe Biden said he’s also weighing for federal employees.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said he’s not considering imposing a mask mandate in schools or statewide, though he urged Pennsylvanians to follow federal guidance. The Democrat said state mandates on masks were necessary before there was a vaccine.
The CDC’s new guidance applies to places with at least 50 new cases per 100,000 people in the last week, which is roughly 60 per cent of all U.S. counties, federal officials said.
WATCH | CDC recommends masks indoors, even for fully vaccinated:
Nearly all of the south and southwest are subject to the guidance, but most communities in the northeast — with the exception of major metropolitan areas such as New York City and Boston — are exempt for now, according to the CDC’s COVID-19 tracker.
The stark partisan divide over mask-wearing set up the potential for a patchwork of regulations within states and counties.
In Florida’s Miami-Dade County, Mayor Daniella Levine Cava imposed an indoor mask mandate Wednesday at county facilities.
The Democrat’s announcement, which does not apply to businesses or restaurants, comes after Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a new law in May giving the state the power to invalidate local pandemic measures, including mask mandates and limits on business operations.
In Missouri, the St. Louis County Council voted Tuesday to reverse its mask mandate, just a day after it became one of the first reinstated in the country.
But Democratic County Executive Sam Page insisted Wednesday that the mandate remained in effect and blamed the pushback on politics.
On the other side of the state, Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas, a Democrat, promised to provide details Wednesday on his plans to order mask wearing indoors in Missouri’s largest city.
State Attorney General Eric Schmitt, who is running for the U.S. Senate as a Republican, has sued to block the St. Louis-area mandate and has vowed to do the same for Kansas City’s requirement, saying on Twitter that the mandates are “about politics & control, not science.”
The CDC’s updated guidance was prompted by new data suggesting vaccinated people can pass on the virus in rare cases.
But the agency’s director, Rochelle Walensky, stressed that the vaccines are working by preventing greater levels of hospitalization and death. Unvaccinated people account for the vast number of new infections. Two-thirds of the vaccine-eligible population in the U.S. has received at least one dose.
“I know this is not a message America wants to hear,” Walensky told CNN on Wednesday.
“With prior variants, when people had these rare breakthrough infections, we didn’t see the capacity of them to spread the virus to others, but with the delta variant, we now see that you can actually now pass it to somebody else.”
What’s happening in Canada
What’s happening around the world
As of Wednesday, more than 195.8 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to a case-tracking tool maintained by Johns Hopkins University. The reported global death toll stood at more than 4.1 million.
In Asia, Indonesia recorded 47,791 new cases and 1,824 confirmed deaths in the last 24 hours. The Health Ministry recorded 558,392 active cases in Indonesia, with more than 81,000 cases from Sumatra regions.
In Africa, Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan received her vaccine in public, in the most decisive signal yet of a break from the policies of her late predecessor who repeatedly dismissed the threat of the pandemic.
In the Americas, health officials say infected youth are a driving factor in Mexico’s third wave of cases. Experts say young people are at greater risk because most are unvaccinated and they’ve become increasingly active.
In Europe, Norway postponed for a second time a planned final step in the reopening of its economy from pandemic lockdown, due to the continued spread of the delta variant, the government said.
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