Employees, contractors and visitors at federal offices will soon be required to wear masks regardless of vaccination status, as the Office of Management and Budget emailed agencies late Tuesday to tighten its masking guidance.

The email to agencies, which an OMB spokesperson confirmed to Federal Times, outlines that areas of high community transmission, including the D.C. area, should require masks for all persons entering buildings.

The new mask guidance comes shortly after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance for vaccinated people to once again wear masks indoors “in an area of substantial or high transmission.“

Across the U.S., cases of the delta variant of COVID-19 have been surging, largely in unvaccinated populations. Some breakthrough cases — infections that arise with individuals that are already fully vaccinated — have also occurred. No vaccine is 100 percent effective, and the CDC plans to conduct more investigations into how widespread those cases are.

The more COVID-19 continues to spread across the world, the more likely it will mutate into other variants, which could have less protection from existing vaccines, warned CDC Director Rochelle Walensky.

“These vaccines operate really well in protecting us from severe disease and death, but the big concern is that the next variant that might emerge — just a few mutations potentially away — could potentially evade our vaccines,” Walensky said Tuesday.

In late spring, federal agencies began lifting the mask mandates imposed by President Joe Biden on his first day in office, and the White House issued guidance in June for federal agencies to begin returning their employees to in-person work.

But case numbers began to rise in July, with the CDC reporting more than 80,000 new cases July 27.

Biden said Tuesday that his administration is considering mandating vaccines for federal employees.

Some agencies, including the Defense Department, have issued memoranda rescinding previous mask guidelines and are instituting new mask requirements in areas of high community transmission.

Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.

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