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Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Growing nervousness about the Delta variant of COVID-19 is causing some places to consider reinstating mask recommendations. But with conflicting guidance from top health agencies, it's got the potential to create new confusion around masking.

Driving the news: Days after the World Health Organization recommended vaccinated people should still wear their masks to slow the spread of the Delta variant, the CDC reiterated its own guidance allowing individuals to unmask and leaving masking rules to states and counties to decide.

Be smart: Vaccinated Americans have been deemed safe from variants so far including the Delta variant, which has unvaccinated people twice as likely to be hospitalized if infected.

Reality check: Despite the return of some normalcy ahead of the holiday weekend, half of the U.S. is still not fully vaccinated, fueling a looming possibility of a resurgence of COVID cases.

State of play: The unvaccinated, including children too young to get vaccinated, and the immunocompromised would primarily benefit from a reinstated mask mandate.

What they're saying: Though a difficult decision, "masks are not the most burdensome" compared to shutting down parts of schools and businesses to curb the spread, said David Dowdy, associate professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

  • "As much as we all want the pandemic to be over and done with forever, it’s not," he added.

The big picture: Despite falling short of a nationwide goal of 70% of Americans with one shot by July 4, the U.S. is still largely ahead of the world in immunization coverage. Many countries are still below 10% and community transmission is still ongoing in large numbers.

  • Still, the amount of COVID-19 vaccine doses distributed in the U.S. continues to fall and 29 states won’t reach the 70% mark until 2022 or beyond based on vaccination rates from the past two weeks, per an analysis from APM Research Lab.

What to watch: Voluntary and mandatory guidance for masks and capacity limits from businesses and local jurisdictions may return as children too young to get vaccinated go back to school, Dowdy said.

Go deeper

Oct 8, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers tests positive for breakthrough COVID-19

Photo: Michael A. McCoy/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) has tested positive for COVID-19 despite being vaccinated, she disclosed Friday, using her announcement to renew calls for constituents to "talk to your doctor about getting the vaccine if you haven’t already.”

Driving the news: "Yesterday, despite being fully vaccinated, I tested positive for COVID-19," she wrote in a statement. "My symptoms are mild and I am quarantining at home and following CDC and local health guidelines."

Jan. 6 panel subpoenas 2 far-right "America First" activists

The House panel investigating the Capitol riot, from left; Reps. Bennie Thompson, Liz Cheney, Adam Kinzinger and Jamie Raskin on Capitol Hill in December. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The House select committee investigating the Capitol riot issued subpoenas Wednesday for far-right leaders Nick Fuentes and Patrick Casey, who allegedly encouraged followers to go to D.C. and challenge the 2020 election results.

Why it matters: The action underscores the panel's increasing focus on rallies held ahead of the Capitol attack and how extremists were drawn to former President Trump's baseless claims of widespread voter fraud, per the New York Times.

Democrats fail to change Senate rules to pass voting rights bill

Senate Majority Leader during a news conference in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Democrats failed Wednesday night to change Senate filibuster rules to pass the voting rights bill, with Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) voting with Republicans.

The big picture: The failed effort came after Senate Republicans blocked the voting rights measure from coming to a final vote earlier Wednesday.