As Americans navigate conflicting COVID-19 mask advice, ‘everyone is confused’

People wear masks, as cases of the infectious Delta variant of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continue to rise, in Washington Square Park in New York City, U.S., July 22, 2021. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

A COVID-19 surge ignited in parts of the United States by the highly contagious Delta variant and vaccine hesitancy has led to new mask mandates and deep confusion among some people about which guidance to follow.

In Los Angeles County, leaders have reinstated an indoor mask mandate, even for the fully vaccinated. Officials in Houston and New Orleans also raised coronavirus alert levels this week and told people to mask up.

In Florida, however, Governor Ron DeSantis said on Thursday children will not be required to wear masks in school there this fall, arguing that “we need our kids to breathe.” Hours later, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters: “If I were a parent in Florida, that would be greatly concerning to me.”

“Everyone is confused about what they should be doing,” said Daniel Blacksheare, a 20-year-old in Santa Monica, California, who said he was infected twice last year. “I don’t understand why we have to suddenly wear a mask again.”

The county sheriff in Los Angeles County said his department will not enforce the measure.

The conflicting advice from officials at city, county, state and federal levels of government comes as hospital officials in the harder-hit states with lower vaccination rates are sounding the alarm about their systems being overwhelmed.

The seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases in the United States is up 53% over the previous week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday. The Delta variant makes up more than 80% of the new cases across the country.

Much of the guidance falls along the same political lines as earlier in the pandemic. Leaders in heavily Republican states generally eschew masks, and Democrats insist upon them.

Schools are a particular tension point nationwide. Children under age 12 are still not eligible for coronavirus vaccines, and many parents consider masks as the best remaining defense.

Yet as some areas return to the classroom in just a few weeks, there are wide divisions over whether children should be wearing masks in schools.

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