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Masks on. Masks off. Masks on again at White House, as COVID variant threat grows

Chris Megerian, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON — A little more than two months ago, a beaming President Joe Biden stepped into the Rose Garden to announce that vaccinated Americans no longer needed to wear masks indoors. So much progress had been made against the coronavirus, now they could go back to “greeting others with a smile.”

But anyone smiling inside the White House on Wednesday was supposed to do it once again from behind a mask.

The requirement was back after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said new research showed even vaccinated people could transmit, in rare cases, the more contagious delta variant.

Reporters and photographers wore masks. Members of the press office wore masks. Biden did not for his short walk from the Oval Office to Marine One for a trip to Pennsylvania — the requirement doesn’t apply to outdoors.

Unlike when Donald Trump was president, and his administration disregarded public health guidelines, this White House has been a barometer for how federal officials say Americans should protect themselves from the coronavirus.

Now it’s a high profile showcase for the country’s faltering attempt to end the pandemic as the delta variant tears through unvaccinated communities, and infections rise. Millions of Americans’ reluctance or refusal to get their vaccines has left large swaths of the country vulnerable to the virus, a situation that has led Biden to once again recommend masking to slow the spread.


Biden described the masking guidelines Tuesday as “another step on our journey to defeating this virus.”

If it’s a journey, it’s a frustrating one that requires backtracking at times. Administration officials acknowledged that the guidelines were unwelcome news, particularly for people who have gotten their shots and watched hospitals fill up again because others will not.

Biden made his personal adherence to public health recommendations a cornerstone of last year’s campaign to defeat Trump, and he publicly embraced the guidelines.

“I hope all Americans who live in the areas covered by the CDC guidance will follow it,” Biden said. “I certainly will when I travel to these areas.”


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