CHICAGO — Some state and local leaders are encouraging even fully vaccinated people to wear masks indoors to blunt a rise of the delta variant of COVID-19.
On Monday, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker said the variant was a “growing presence” and pleaded that the millions of unvaccinated Illinoisans roll up their sleeves. He also encouraged everyone to bring a mask with them when they leave their homes.
On Monday, the state reported 448 hospitalized patients who’d tested positive for COVID-19, down from 1,013 on June 1. About 40% of Illinoisans above the age of 16 are unvaccinated.
It came the same day as health officials in Los Angeles County, the country’s most populated county, also strongly recommended their residents to mask up regardless of vaccine status.
“Until we better understand how and to who the Delta variant is spreading, everyone should focus on maximum protection with minimum interruption to routine as all businesses operate without other restrictions, like physical distancing and capacity limits,” the department said in a news release.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not changed its guidance: fully vaccinated people do not need to wear masks indoors. However, late last week, the World Health Organization suggested everyone wear masks as the variant cases grow.
Pritzker pointed to Israel, which has the greatest percentage of vaccinated citizens on the planet, as proof that the variant posed a risk to everyone. Israel reported 85 new cases the week of June 7, but it ballooned to 1,093 new cases two weeks later.
Yet, aside from reinstating the country’s indoor mask mandate, Israeli leaders are preaching calm. Yoram Weiss, director of Jerusalem’s Hadassah University Medical Center, told the Washington Post Monday their COVID-19 ward was empty despite the rise in cases. The country has reported four COVID-19 deaths the entire month of June.
Even in Chicago, public health leaders are downplaying the WHO and Israeli shifts in mask guidance. Chicago Health Department Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said they would stick with CDC guidance.
“Since a vaccine was fully available 98% of our deaths 97% of our hospitalizations have been in people who were not fully vaccinated,” Arwady said in a Facebook question and answer session Tuesday. “That has been holding even for the Delta variant.”
The delta variant, first identified in India, is listed as a variant of concern on the CDC’s website, and its variant tracker shows Missouri is seeing the biggest proportion of its cases from this mutation. The CDC believes it’s more transmissible, but is not sure if it causes more serious disease.
“So far, studies suggest that the current authorized vaccines work on the circulating variants,” the CDC’s website reads. “Scientists will continue to study these and other variants.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.