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Federal agencies told to return masks indoors despite vaccination status

CDC issued new guidance on Tuesday recommending indoor mask use in areas with high transmission of Covid.
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WASHINGTON — The White House Office of Management and Budget has told federal agencies they must mandate masks indoors in federal buildings for all employees and visitors — regardless of vaccination status.

The notice to federal agencies was sent in an email late Tuesday, obtained by NBC News.

The email from Jason Miller, OMB's Deputy Director for Management said, "in areas of substantial or high community transmission, agencies must require all Federal employees, onsite contractors, and visitors, regardless of vaccination status, to wear a mask inside of Federal buildings. As of today, that includes the Washington, DC area.”

Defense Department Deputy Secretary Kathleen Hicks is directing all individuals at the Pentagon to wear masks in indoor settings, said Jamal Brown, the agency's deputy press secretary. The announcement applies to all service members, federal personnel, and visitors.

On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance recommending indoor mask use in areas with high transmission rates after new data suggested fully vaccinated individuals are not just contracting Covid-19 but could potentially infect others.

The CDC's updated recommendations come as a devastating fourth wave of infection is sweeping the nation. Cases are rising in every state, such as Louisiana, who this week hit the biggest single-day increase of hospitalizations since the pandemic started.

Miller's letter adds, federal employees, onsite contractors, and visitors who are not fully vaccinated also need to continue to physically distance in accordance with the CDC.

Additionally, President Joe Biden is expected to announce Thursday that federal workers will be required to be vaccinated for Covid or abide by stringent protocols, like regular testing and mask wearing, according to administration officials.

No decision has been finalized and further details are expected later this week after a policy review, one of the sources said.