White House officials told guests to wear masks on Tuesday, minutes after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended vaccinated Americans use face masks indoors in areas were COVID-19 was spreading rapidly.
Reporters covering an event with the Vice President Kamala Harris were handed masks and told to cover up before entering her ceremonial office, according to attendees.
The moves illustrate growing alarm among officials at the way the fast-spreading Delta variant is undoing progress in tackling the pandemic.
Earlier President Biden said he was 'considering' mandatory vaccines for all federal workers.
Harris wore a mask as she met with Native American community leaders and then issued a plea to the public.
'None of us like wearing masks,' she said.
'People need to get vaccinated. People need to get vaccinated.
'It will save their life. This virus is no joke.'
Vice President Kamala Harris and Native American community leaders masked up for their meeting in the Vice President's Ceremonial Office at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex after the CDC issued new guidance on face coverings
Reporters covering the voting rights event were told to wear a mask before they entered the Vice President's Ceremonial Office. Staff handed out masks to anyone who had arrived without a face covering
Fin Gomez, a journalist with CBS News and White House Correspondents Association board member, replaces signs telling reporters only the unvaccinated must wear a mask with ones saying everyone must cover up before entering the James Brady Briefing Room
The signs were removed in May when the CDC relaxed its guidance and said fully vaccinated people need no longer wear masks indoors
The Delta variant is blamed for surging numbers of COVID-19 infections in the U.S., triggering a range of new measures to halt its spread
President Biden had promised a 'summer of freedom' but the numbers keep going up
Afterwards, a White House official explained the policy: 'We follow CDC guidance and this afternoon Washington, D.C. was classified as having a substantial level of community transmission.'
Coronavirus cases are on the rise because of the Delta variant, which was first identified in India but now accounts for about 80 percent of U.S. infections.
In a reversal of policy, the new C.D.C. guidance recommends that even vaccinated people should wear masks in indoor public spaces in regions of 'substantial' transmission - defined as more than 50 cases per 100,000 people.
It said that 63.4 percent of counties now had levels high enough to warrant indoor masking - including Washington, D.C., where the rate is 52 cases per 100,000.
The result was swift at the White House.
Signs were posted in the briefing room, where they had been taken down in May after the CDC relaxed its rules.
'Mask Required: Per CDC guidance, masks must be worn in crowded indoor spaces un areas with substantial community spread of COVID-19 regardless of vaccination status,' said the White House Correspondents Association sign.
Earlier on Capitol Hill, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer wore a mask while saying he was awaiting CDC guidance.
Biden issued a statement saying that he would be laying out the 'next steps' in getting more Americans vaccinated on Thursday.
'By following the science, and by doing our part by getting vaccinated, America can beat COVID,' he said.
'In the meantime, more vaccinations and mask wearing in the areas most impacted by the Delta variant will enable us to avoid the kind of lockdowns, shutdowns, school closures, and disruptions we faced in 2020.'
President Biden said on Tuesday that he was considering a vaccine mandate for federal staff and said vaccinations and masks were they way to avoid a return to the lockdowns of last year
The White House has come under frequent criticism for the way guidance and recommendations have gone one way then the other.
For example, prominent officials such as Dr. Anthony Fauci initially told the public not to wear masks, before backtracking last year.
During a visit to the Office of the National Director of Intelligence, Biden was asked whether the changes were causing confusion.
He said the problem lay with people who had not been vaccinated.
'The more we learn about this virus and the Delta variation the more we have to be worried and concerned,' he said.
'And the only thing we know for sure, if those other 100 million people got vaccinated we'd be in a very different world.'
Officials have repeatedly said the country was in the grip of a 'pandemic of the unvaccinated.'