If Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, were right now in, say, Biloxi, Mississippi, he would consider wearing a mask.
Fauci is fully vaccinated. But Sunday in an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” he told anchor Chuck Todd that in parts of the country with low levels of vaccination and rising coronavirus caseloads, he might “go the extra mile to be cautious enough to make sure that I get the extra added level of protection.”
“Even though the vaccines themselves are highly effective,” he added. Just 36% of Mississippi residents have had at least one shot of a coronavirus vaccine.
Whether and when vaccinated people should wear masks is a question that’s been on the minds of many Americans. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced in May that fully vaccinated people did not need to wear masks, even indoors, and has stuck with the guidance.
But worried about the spread of the contagious Delta variant, health officials in Los Angeles County have begun recommending that vaccinated residents wear masks in some settings. And the World Health Organization recently reiterated its advice that all people continue to wear masks and take precautions.
Though about 67% of Americans 18 and older have gotten at least one dose of a vaccine and almost 60% are fully vaccinated, vaccination rates vary sharply by region. “We’re going to see, and I’ve said, almost two types of Americas,” Fauci said Sunday.
On July 1, The White House announced it would send out “surge response teams” with additional testing supplies and therapeutics to communities experiencing a rise in COVID-19 cases. Missouri, where the daily number of reported cases has recently doubled, requested a response team just hours after the announcement. Vaccinations in that state, too, have lagged the national average, at 45%.
Fauci said that 99.2% of COVID-related deaths in June occurred among unvaccinated people. “It’s really sad and tragic that most of all of these are avoidable and preventable,” he said.
Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, on Sunday predicted 85% of the population might end up with some level of immunity to the coronavirus, citing the high transmissibility of the Delta variant.
“We now have our choice in terms of how we acquire that immunity,” Gottlieb said in an interview on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “You can acquire it through vaccination or you’re going to end up acquiring it through natural infection.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.