The policy will go into effect immediately, the department said in a statement. The DHS oversees a number of different agencies, including Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Transportation Security Administration.
“DHS is following the new [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidance and [Office of Management and Budget] instructions to ensure the safety of our workforce. Beginning today, all employees, regardless of vaccination status, will be required to wear a mask indoors & physically distance,” the agency wrote on Twitter.
DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, meanwhile, is working from home this week after coming into contact with someone who tested positive for the virus, said a spokesperson.
“Secretary Mayorkas has a virtual schedule this week after coming into close contact with a DHS official who later tested positive for COVID-19,” DHS spokeswoman Marsha Espinosa said. “The Secretary is fully vaccinated, has no symptoms, and has tested negative twice. Official DHS contact tracing is underway. These recommendations have been informed by the Office of the DHS Chief Medical Officer and are taken in an overabundance of caution.”
The move comes a day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended that vaccinated and unvaccinated people wear masks indoors in some high-transmission areas. The White House and House of Representatives quickly mandated that all staff and reporters wear masks indoors.
The health agency stated that the updated guidance was issued due to the spread of the Delta COVID-19 variant around the United States, although some experts noted that the death rate nationwide is the lowest it’s been since March 2020.
“Infections happen in only a small proportion of people who are fully vaccinated, even with the Delta variant,” the CDC stated. “However, preliminary evidence suggests that fully vaccinated people who do become infected with the Delta variant can spread the virus to others.”
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the CDC has recommended that people wear masks and socially distance six feet apart. But in May, the agency issued guidance saying that fully vaccinated individuals don’t have to wear masks indoors.
Hours after the CDC revised its guidance, President Joe Biden said he’s considering making vaccines mandatory for all federal employees but offered no further details.
“The more we learn, the more we learn about this virus and the Delta variation, the more we have to be worried and concerned. And there’s only one thing we know for sure—if those other 100 million people got vaccinated, we’d be in a very different world,” he told reporters in Washington on July 27.
Earlier this week, the first federal agency—the Department of Veterans Affairs—announced that it would require all staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19. It isn’t clear whether Homeland Security would impose a similar requirement for its employees.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki noted on July 27 that administration officials are aware of the risk that vaccine or mask mandates could harden opposition to vaccines and masks.
“The president certainly recognizes that he is not always the right voice to every community about the benefits of getting vaccinated, which is why we have invested as much as we have in local voices and empowering local, trusted voices,” she told reporters.