National Institute of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins said that the coronavirus delta variant poses a new threat to the population compared to previous forms of COVID-19, and that all effective measures should be used to slow the spread, including a return to wearing masks indoors in some areas.
Speaking to "Fox News Sunday," Collins stressed the highly contagious nature of the delta variant, while acknowledging that vaccines are generally effective against it.
"This is really a different virus than last year, and everything we learned about COVID a year ago, you got to sort of hit the reset button on now how we need to react to it," Collins said.
Collins went on to say that while infections of vaccinated people are rare and do not pose significant risks to those people themselves, vaccinated people who do catch it can transmit it to to others. That, he explained, is why the CDC is recommending people in areas where there is high transmission to go back to wearing masks indoors, even if they are vaccinated.
"This is the best way to stop the transmission of this very contagious virus," he said.
Collins emphasized that the vaccines "work extremely well, including against delta," and was encouraged by increasing vaccination rates.
Children under 12, however, are so far not eligible to receive the vaccines. Kids are generally not known to get severely ill from COVID-19, and out of 503,544 deaths currently reported by the CDC, just 296 were kids below the age of 12, less than .06%. Still, Collins recommends that children under 12 wear masks when they start school in the fall, to reduce spread between students or transmission to their families.
"If delta is as contagious as we now know it is, and we want to try to put an end to a very significant uptick right now, wearing masks if you're under 12 and can't be vaccinated when you're in school is a really smart thing to do," he said.
Collins said he is aware that this is "tiresome" and that children and parents "are sick of it," but that if this could save "even a few" lives "then it seems like the right thing to do." He added that he believes it is "a sacrifice worth making" in order to make sure that the pandemic does not get worse and so the country can avoid any further lockdowns.
Ultimately, Collins tried to express optimism mixed in with his warnings, reminding viewers that the country has made great strides against COVID-19.
"We've made a lot of progress here compared to where we were a year ago," he said, "we just don't want to do silly things to cause the delta virus to come back even stronger."