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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

Updated Sep 17, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Vaccines: Key FDA committee takes on the big booster question — Los Angeles County to require vaccination proof at indoor bars — France suspends 3,000 unvaccinated health workers without pay.
  2. Health: Worsening crisis at Rikers Island jail spurs call for action — 1 in 500 Americans has died — Cases are falling, but deaths are rising.
  3. Politics: White House invites call with Nicki Minaj to discuss vaccine — Gottlieb says CDC hampered U.S. response — 26 states have limited state or local officials' public health powers.
  4. Education: Denver looks to students to close Latino vaccination gap — Federal judge temporarily blocks Iowa's ban on mask mandates in schools — Massachusetts activates National Guard to help with school transportation.
  5. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.
Sep 18, 2021 - Health

Mississippi reports rise in COVID-19 deaths among pregnant women

Dr. Thomas Dobbs speaks during a House Homeland Security Subcommittee hearing in Washington, D.C., on March 10, 2020. Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

At least eight pregnant women in Mississippi, who weren't fully vaccinated, have died of COVID-19 since late July, CNN reports.

Why it matters: The eight pregnant women who have died from the virus more than doubles the state's pandemic total in just two months.

Sep 17, 2021 - Health

CDC: Moderna vaccine most effective against hospitalization in U.S.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Overall healthy adults with the Moderna COVID vaccine had 93% vaccine effectiveness against hospitalization over five months compared to those with 88% protection with Pfizer and 71% from the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, a new report out Friday from the CDC shows.

Why it matters: The report comes as the Food and Drug Administrations meets Friday to consider whether to endorse a contentious plan for booster shots among the fully vaccinated.