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CDC expected to reverse policy on face masks later Tuesday, amid reports of breakthrough infections with delta variant of COVID-19

Reports of breakthrough infections with the delta variant of the coronavirus-borne illness COVID-19 in Americans who are fully vaccinated has prompted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to change its policy on face masks in public settings for some parts of the U.S., media reports indicated Tuesday.

The agency was expected to make the recommendation public later in the day, the New York Times reported, in what will be a reversal of the guidelines issued in May that said fully inoculated individuals could stop wearing masks and no longer needed to socially distance.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, acknowledged at the weekend that government health experts were reviewing the policy.

The delta variant is spreading fast in the U.S., especially in states with high numbers of unvaccinated people. The variant, which was first detected in India, is now present in at least 124 countries, based on the World Health Organization’s latest weekly epidemiological update.

CDC head Dr. Rochelle Walensky said last week the delta variant accounts for 83% of all cases recently sequenced in the U.S.

Covid-19’s Delta variant is proliferating world-wide threatening unvaccinated populations and economic recovery. WSJ breaks down events in key countries to explain why Delta spreads faster than previously detected strains. Composite: Sharon Shi

The highly transmissible variant is behind a rise in COVID cases in all 50 states with several, including Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana and Florida, currently suffering spikes in cases that are filling hospitals. Louisiana is recording more than 2,400 cases a day, up from fewer than 400 at the beginning of July, according to a New York Times tracker.

Read also: Biden says COVID-19 fast becoming pandemic of unvaccinated, hopes children under 12 can join program ‘within months’

The tracker shows the seven-day average cases in the entire U.S. stood at 56,635, up 144% from two weeks ago. Hospitalizations are up 68%, and deaths are up 7%. And while the numbers are well below those seen at the peak of the pandemic earlier this year, they are worryingly high and rising.

The CDC’s vaccine tracker, meanwhile, is stubbornly static from day-to-day, showing 163 million people, or 49.1% of the overall population, are fully vaccinated. That means they have had two shots of the two-dose vaccines developed by Pfizer
PFE,
+0.69%

with German partner BioNTech
BNTX,
-3.33%

and Moderna
MRNA,
-4.63%
,
or one dose of Johnson & Johnson’s
JNJ,
+0.31%

one-shot regimen. The AstraZeneca
AZN,
+0.94%

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-0.47%

vaccine, widely used in the U.K. and other places, has not been granted emergency-use authorization in the U.S.

Among adults 18 and over, 60% are fully vaccinated, while 69% have received at least one dose, still a hair short of Biden’s goal of having 70% of the adult population receive at least one dose by the recent July 4 holiday.

The U.S. is sticking with travel restrictions on international travel as long as delta is spreading around the world, the Associated Press reported. And some federal agencies are moving to mandate vaccines for healthcare workers, including the Department of Veterans Affairs, which announced its decision on Monday.

California and New York City announced Monday that they would require all government employees to get the coronavirus vaccine or face weekly COVID-19 testing, also from the AP.

The announcements are the “opening of the floodgates” as more government entities and companies impose vaccine mandates after vaccine efforts nationwide “hit a wall,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health.

Dr. Tom Frieden, former head of the CDC, told CNN that the U.S. could see four times the current rate of COVID cases in the next four to six weeks if it fails to persuade the unvaccinated to get their shots.

“We’re heading into a rough time. It’s likely, if our trajectory is similar to that in the United Kingdom, that we could see as many as 200,000 cases a day,” he said.

And while the death rate is unlikely to return to pandemic highs, “you will see a steady increase in deaths, and these are preventable deaths.”

Read now: COVID-19 — but not the vaccine — may reduce male fertility

See: Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey says unvaccinated are to blame for rising COVID-19 cases; ‘It’s the unvaccinated folks that are letting us down’

Elsewhere, Australia’s second biggest city, Melbourne, is expected to lift its fifth lockdown on July 27, NDTV reported, while Sydney, the biggest city, will remain subject to restrictions on movement.

Russia is planning to test mixing the AstraZeneca vaccine with its own vaccine, called Sputnik V, the AP reported.

Indonesia suffered yet another one-day-record death toll of 2,069, according to AFP.

Latest tallies

The global tally for the coronavirus-borne illness climbed above 194.9 million on Tuesday, while the death toll climbed above 4.16 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.

The U.S. leads the world with a total of 34.5 million cases and in deaths with 611,037.

India is second by cases at 31.4 million and third by deaths at 421,382, according to its official numbers, which are believed to be undercounted.

Brazil is second in deaths at 550,502, but is third in cases at 19.7 million.

Mexico has fourth highest death toll at 238,595 but has recorded just 2.7 million cases, according to its official numbers.

In Europe, Russia continues to pull ahead of the U.K. by deaths at 152,836, while the U.K. has 129,460, making Russia the country with the fifth highest death toll in the world and highest in Europe.

China, where the virus was first discovered late in 2019, has had 104,714 confirmed cases and 4,848 deaths, according to its official numbers, which are widely held to be massively underreported.

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