TAMPA, Fla. — Due to the surge of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the Tampa Bay area, MacDill Air Force Base says it is moving to a higher Health Protection Condition.
Starting Wednesday, the base will transition to HPCON Charlie from HPCON Bravo+. In addition to the indoor mask mandate for everyone, regardless of vaccination status, masks will also be required outdoors when social distancing isn't possible.
Additionally, the base says it will utilize teleworking and virtual meetings as much as possible to further help mitigate the potential spread of COVID-19.
Physical distancing of "greater than six feet" will also be reinstated.
According to a memo released Wednesday, all personnel is "strongly encouraged" to wear a mask off-base at places such as bars and restaurants where it's unknown who is vaccinated or not.
Personnel is also urged to avoid social gatherings on and off base that "do not readily allow for appropriate health and safety practices."
Florida has seen record-breaking numbers of new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in recent days due in part to the delta variant and lower vaccination rates.
Last week, the CDC reversed course on some of its masking guidelines, recommending that vaccinated people return to wearing masks indoors in parts of the U.S. where there are surging cases of COVID-19.
People who are unvaccinated always have been asked to wear a mask.
In Florida, nearly every corner of the state is dealing with high transmission rates of the virus.
Most new infections in the U.S. continue to be among unvaccinated people. So-called breakthrough infections, which generally cause milder illness, can occur in vaccinated people. When earlier strains of the virus predominated, infected vaccinated people were found to have low levels of virus and were deemed unlikely to spread the virus much, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said.
But with the delta variant, the level of virus in infected vaccinated people is "indistinguishable” from the level of virus in the noses and throats of unvaccinated people, Walensky said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.