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Mask Debate Heats Up as Delta Variant Surges: 'We Need Our Kids to Breathe'

In this Wednesday, March 10, 2021 file photo, a health worker administers a dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine against COVID-19. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini, file)
In this Wednesday, March 10, 2021 file photo, a health worker administers a dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine against COVID-19. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini, file)

WASHINGTON – The number of Americans contracting the delta variant of COVID-19 is rising across the U.S., and now there are new questions about the possibility of another round of mask mandates.

The average number of new daily cases is up by more than 50-percent from last week.

"The delta variant is spreading with incredible efficiency," Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told reporters Thursday.

New cases are rising in 46 states with 40-percent coming from just three states: Texas, Missouri, and Florida.

"We're almost full of COVID patients and running out of space," explains Chad Neilsen with the University of Florida Health Hospital in Jacksonville.

James Scott Owen, a 41-year-old Floridian, is recovering from major symptoms. "I'm having to remind myself how to relearn to breathe," he said from his hospital bed.

Like Owen, 97-percent of people being hospitalized for COVID-19 are not vaccinated.

"If you are vaccinated, you are safe. If you are vaccinated, you have over a 98% chance of never catching the virus at all. And if you catch it, you're unlikely -- overwhelming truth so far, is you're not going to be hospitalized," said President Joe Biden Thursday.

Reports indicate there's a debate inside the White House over whether to once again require all Americans to mask up. For now, the CDC is sticking to its guidance that vaccinated people can safely go without them.
Clinical trials show the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are 95-percent effective at preventing serious illness and death. They're also shown to protect against the delta variant, and while there have certainly been infections of people who've been vaccinated, in the majority of cases, symptoms are not life-threatening.

"I'm very thankful we got it, thinking about how bad it could have been if we had not had this boost in our immune system. We could have ended up in the hospital," explained Tom Shute, who contracted COVID-19 after getting vaccinated. 

With the school year right around the corner, Atlanta, Boston, and Chicago have already announced students and teachers will be required to wear masks. 

"We're not doing that in Florida, okay? We need our kids to breathe," Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) told reporters this week.

The White House pushed back.

"If I were a parent in Florida that would be greatly concerning to me," responded White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki during the daily press briefing.

Los Angeles County, the largest in the country, recently reinstated indoor mask mandates for all residents, and the city of New Orleans is urging people to do the same.

For most of the nation, masking guidance is unchanged, but as the delta variant surges, stay tuned because that could change.

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