WASHINGTON - Director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Dr. Rochelle Walensky on Thursday said she worries the rise in cases could soon overwhelm the nation’s health care system.
"We are yet at another pivotal moment in this pandemic, with cases rising again and some hospitals reaching their capacity in some areas," Walensky said during a White House coronavirus press briefing on Thursday.
She urged unvaccinated Americans to get shots, saying, "We, together, are not out of the woods yet."
"We need to come together as one nation, unified in our resolve to protect the health of ourselves, our children, our community, our country and our future with the tools we have available," Walensky added.
The delta variant is a mutated version of the novel coronavirus that spreads more easily than other strains. It was first detected earlier this year in India, but now has been identified in countries around the world.
Amid the concerning rise in cases of the delta variant, The National Nurses Union asked the CDC to reinstate universal mask-wearing guidelines and implement more robust data tracking citing an increase in cases across the country, according to a letter sent to the agency on July 12.
Following state reopenings which resulted in rollbacks of preventative health measures such as mask-wearing, the NNU called on the CDC to reverse its updated COVID-19 guidelines released in May. The union claimed the agency failed to account for data in other countries such as the United Kingdom and Israel, which are now seeing spikes in cases among those who are ineligible for the vaccine or have elected to not get one.
In May, the CDC issued guidance that said vaccinated people could go without masks in most settings. They are still required in places like airplanes, buses and trains. Those who are unvaccinated should continue to wear them, according to the CDC.
Despite the fact that COVID-19 cases are climbing across the country, the CDC indicated on Thursday that it is not likely to reissue universal masking guidelines for everyone "at this time."
Amid reports that the White House and CDC were discussing changing that guidance in response to the recent surge, a CDC spokesperson told FOX Television Stations, "At this time, we have no intention of changing our masking guidance."
The White House also said there’s been no decision to change the COVID-19 guidance on wearing face masks.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki insisted Thursday that the CDC, and not the White House, makes the decisions about public health guidelines. Psaki said any change in the guidance would come from CDC.
Walensky said at a Thursday briefing that, while her agency is always reviewing the data, the recommendations haven’t changed.
"If you’re unvaccinated, you should absolutely be wearing a mask. If you’re vaccinated, you have exceptional levels of protection from the vaccine, and you may choose to add an extra layer of protection by putting on your mask, and that’s a very individual choice. That has been consistent with our CDC guidance since we put it out," Walensky said.
The American Academy of Pediatrics this week recommended universal masking in schools, even for those who are vaccinated against the virus that causes COVID-19. In response, Dr. Anthony Fauci said the academy wants to "go the extra mile" to make sure kids are protected, but said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is closely monitoring the situation.
Fauci told "CBS This Morning" on Tuesday the guidance is out of an abundance of caution due to the rise in cases blamed on the delta variant of the coronavirus.
Medical experts argue that relaxed restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 could also contribute to a surge in cases and hospitalizations.
As COVID-19 cases continue to climb amid the spread of the highly contagious delta variant, Dr. Jerome Adams — former surgeon general during the Trump administration — also said the CDC needs to rethink its current mask guidance.
Adams, who once advised against mask-wearing, opened up on social media earlier this week, admitting his regret about the early guidance in spring 2020.
"Last year Tony Fauci and I famously, prematurely, & wrongly advised against masks. I felt it was the best call at the time, but now regret it," Adams wrote on social media.
He said new, updated guidance should require more vaccinated Americans to mask up in areas where cases and deaths are rising.
This story was reported from Los Angeles. Jordan Smith and Catherine Park contributed.