A statewide organization that represents county health officials in New York on Thursday endorsed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's guidelines for universal mask wearing, regardless of a person's vaccination status. 

That includes mask wearing for "critical indoor settings" -- including schools, places of business and restaurants, New York State Association of County Health Officials Executive Director Sarah Ravenhall said. Public transportation and health care settings are already required to have mask rules in place. 

The statement comes amid an increase in COVID-19 cases in New York and across the country, along with hospitalizations. Nearly every county in the state is seeing a rise in COVID positive cases as the highly contagious delta variant of the virus has become the dominant strain.

In the spring, the CDC announced fully vaccinated people could shed their masks while indoors. But the delta variant has led to public health officials at virtually every level reassessing the status of the pandemic while providing a dose of uncertainty to schools and business owners.

“The CDC’s updated recommendation stems from the observation that people infected with the delta variant after vaccination may be contagious and spread the virus to others," Ravenhall said. "Vaccination is still highly effective in preventing significant illness, hospitalization, and death, and is still recommended for all as the best preventive strategy against COVID-19 disease."

Schools are set to reopen in the coming weeks in New York, and the state Department of Health, pointing to the end of an emergency order in June, said guidance for reopening schools should be based on CDC guidelines as well as local health department recommendations.

County health officials said schools should follow those CDC guidelines for schools heading into the fall.

"The mitigation strategies included in the guidance, along with robust efforts to promote vaccinations, will support the safe, healthy reopening of schools for the 2021-22 school year," Ravenhall said.

At the same time, the group pointed to vaccinations as a highly effective form of avoiding serious illness and death from COVID-19. The vast majority of COVID hospitalizations and deaths in New York are of unvaccinated people.