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Pressure mounts on Biden officials to weigh new mask mandates


President Joe Biden vowed people could either be “vaxxed or masked." But as the delta coronavirus variant surges nationwide, some are urging a stronger review of federal health guidelines over mask-wearing.

Biden aides have refrained from questioning the health guidance of top officials. When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said vaccinated people could forgo masks earlier this year, the White House quickly embraced the change.

In a ceremony at the White House Rose Garden, Biden celebrated the repeal, stating if you are fully vaccinated, “You no longer need to wear a mask.”


But surging COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have thrown the decision into question. Top Biden aides and officials are back at the drawing board weighing federal masking guidance, sources told the Washington Post .

One idea discussed by officials involved asking both vaccinated and unvaccinated people to wear masks when spending time indoors or in public areas.

Still, the White House remains averse to policy ideas requiring people to prove their vaccination status, a source familiar with the talks told the outlet.

During a briefing with reporters on Thursday, press secretary Jen Psaki called the report “breathless” and said discussions were a regular order of business, not necessarily a response to the spike in cases.

“We are regularly in touch and have regular meetings with our public health officials, including the CDC, about how to continue to address the virus. That shouldn't surprise anyone,” she told reporters on Thursday.

Psaki stressed current guidelines were still in place, even as the delta variant now accounts for 83% of cases nationwide.

“We want to be clear to the public. Nobody is being advised, who's vaccinated, to wear a mask,” she said.

Not everyone agrees.

John Banzhaf, a professor at George Washington University Law School, said Biden is putting lives at risk by failing to take action.

“He doesn't have to go to Congress,” Banzhaf said. “[Biden] said himself, ‘I will do everything possible from an executive standpoint to make it required that people have to wear masks in public.’ He has not done that.”

Vaccination hesitancy is still a challenge for the administration, which is struggling to increase uptake of the shots.

Officials have heaped blame on social media companies for failing to police misinformation about vaccines spreading on their platforms.

“Certainly using the legal definition, he is killing people by not having the guts to take the effective action, which he promised the American public to do,” Banzhaf said. “He is killing Americans and will continue to kill Americans.”

Public campaigns to boost uptake have also failed, he said.

"We know that the government urging from Biden to [Dr. Anthony] Fauci, to half a dozen other government officials, hasn't been effective. Even many of these programs, where they are using rock stars and athletes in [public service announcements], haven't been effective," Banzhaf added. "Because you've got 40% of healthcare workers that are not vaccinated."

Rules on mask and vaccine protocols are politically fraught, with states bucking federal guidance.

In Florida, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has earned plaudits for charting his state's path on the coronavirus.

On Thursday, he urged state vaccinators to get more shots into arms while rejecting the idea of mask mandates in schools — another area that intensely divides advocates.

During a CNN town hall on Wednesday, Biden urged caution for those without the shot.

“We have a pandemic for those who haven’t gotten a vaccination,” he said.


For Banzhaf, who spearheaded a national shift on smoking, this isn't enough.

“He said he was going to do everything possible from an executive standpoint to make it required that people had to wear masks in public," Banzhaf said. "And yet, he has not done this.”

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