"That's under consideration right now," Biden said. "But if you're not vaccinated, you're not nearly as smart as I thought you were."
The president's remarks came after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended full vaccination and wearing of masks indoors in areas with high transmission cases.
According to CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, new data shows that delta variant behaves "uniquely differently'' from its predecessors and could make vaccinated people infectious. The delta variant accounts for 80 percent of new infections in the U.S.
The White House reinstated its policy requiring all its employees to wear masks regardless of their vaccination status, an official confirmed.
This move followed a surge in the District of Columbia's case rate of 52 cases per 100,000 citizens, meeting the requirements for the "substantial" spread of the disease. The White House Correspondents Association is also requiring all its reporters to wear masks while at the building.
The Department of Veterans Affairs announced that it will require its health care professionals to be vaccinated as the infections more than doubled in the past month in its medical facilities. VA Secretary Denis McDonough said that mandating vaccines is the best way to keep veterans safe, especially as the delta variant spread across the country.
At a White House briefing, Press Secretary Jen Psaki suggested that other federal agencies could follow the mandate by the VA, saying that vaccination is about public health and protecting patients.
"We are going to continue to look at ways to protect our workforce and to save more lives," said Psaki. (Related: Study: Pfizer vaccine less effective against COVID-19 Delta variant.)
The CDC urged vaccinated Americans to wear their masks again, a sharp turnabout from its position in May that vaccinated people don't need to wear masks in indoor spaces.
In a report by the New York Times, the CDC recommended that those who have been vaccinated should resume wearing masks because the pandemic mutated into something very different since May. Confirmed cases are surging in different parts of the country with low vaccination rates, with more reports of breakthrough infections of the highly contagious delta variant in fully immunized individuals.
While vaccines are effective against the worst of the infection and conditions are not as bad as they were last winter, the new guidance does amount to an acknowledgment of the lagging vaccination efforts. According to federal data, fewer than 50 percent of the country remained unvaccinated.
"This is not a decision we at CDC have made lightly. This weighs heavily on me," Walensky said.
The regulations announced Tuesday mean that people who have been completely inoculated will need to wear masks again. Health officials are recommending masking regardless of community transmission.
Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said that despite the effectiveness of the current vaccines, the virus is still spreading rapidly among the unvaccinated. "The risk is greater for everyone if we do not stop the ongoing spread of the virus and the delta variant."
In a news briefing, Walensky also said that there are occasions when vaccinated people infected with the delta variant can be contagious to others. "This new science is worrisome and unfortunately warrants an update to our recommendation."
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top pandemic adviser for the Biden administration, said that the CDC is correct in its recommendations, saying that "they’re dealing with new information that the science is providing."
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