Mask mandates are making a comeback as experts say we could be at the beginning of a fourth wave of COVID-19 thanks to the Delta variant. While vaccines have proven effective against preventing severe illness, vax rates are low in some areas with rapidly expanding case counts. With the back-to-school season looming, the return of mask mandates could be a sign of what this fall and winter will look like.
According to CBS News, Los Angeles County reinstated a mask mandate last week, requiring them indoors with an indefinite timeline for the mandate’s expiration. That came a month after the mandate was lifted and as numbers are surging in the LA area. Data from LA County Public Health shows that the positive test rate has gone way up and hospitalizations have more than doubled from where they were at the end of June. According to the Los Angeles Times, the county reported over 2,000 new cases for the day of July 25.
Barbara Ferrer, the county’s Public Health Director, said over the weekend that the Delta variant was “one of the most aggressive and infectious respiratory diseases known and currently makes up over 80% of sequenced cases in L.A. County.”
Other local governments are also making moves. According to ABC News, officials in Provincetown, Massachusetts, voted to reinstate a mask mandate in an emergency meeting on Sunday night as a cluster has formed there. According to the report, officials said 69% of the confirmed cases in Massachusetts residents were among people who have been vaccinated. Provincetown’s town manager, Alex Morse, told local ABC affiliate WCVB that there have been few hospitalizations and reported symptoms have been mild.
As might be expected in a context of highly politicized public health measures, not everyone is on board with mask mandates returning. In St. Louis, the city and county have reinstated a mask mandate effective Monday, July 26, Fox 2 Now reported. But, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, several elected officials at the local and state levels are mounting political opposition to the public health measure.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Disease and one of the country’s top infectious disease experts, has said federal public health authorities are also considering recommending that vaccinated people mask up given that the country is headed in what he called “the wrong direction.”
Some are warning that this could be the beginning of a “fourth wave” of COVID-19 in the United States. As Time magazine explored last week, waves of COVID-19 in the U.S. aren’t nationally uniform but tend to surge locally and regionally. For example, CNN reported that the White House has said Friday that nearly 40% of new cases last week occurred in just three states — Florida, Texas, and Missouri.
Numbering waves is also an imprecise science. For example, some considered an uptick in late March and early April the possible start of a fourth wave. But if there is a new wave of COVID-19 in the U.S., how much it spreads will be the primary concern.
“There will be a fourth wave,” Dr. Carl Fichtenbaum of the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine told Cincinnati, Ohio, NBC affiliate WLWT last week. “The question is how big will it be?”
Whatever wave this constitutes, it’s clear the latest COVID-19 numbers are a sign that, even with vaccines, the pandemic isn’t over.
Want more from Teen Vogue? Check this out: The Delta Variant and COVID-19: What It Means for Masks, Vaccines, and Restrictions