CDC Director: New Guidance Not Permission For ‘Widespread Removal’ of Masks

CDC Director: New Guidance Not Permission For 'Widespread Removal' of Masks rochelle walensky speaks to the press Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Rochelle Walensky. (Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images)

By Fran Beyer | Sunday, 16 May 2021 10:09 AM

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Sunday new COVID-19 guidance on mask-wearing is not “permissions for widespread removal” of face coverings.

In an interview on ABC News’ “This Week,” Walensky said decisions on mask-wearing have to be made at the “community level” as well.

“The guidance that we released on Thursday is about individuals and what individuals are at risk of doing if they are not vaccinated,” she said. “If they’re vaccinated, they are safe. If they are not vaccinated, they are not safe. They should still be wearing a mask or better yet, to get vaccinated.”

“We also need to say that this is not permission for widespread removal of masks,” she continued. “For those who are vaccinated, it may take sometime for them to feel comfortable removing their masks, but also that these decisions have to be made at the jurisdictional level, at the community level. Some communities have been hit harder than others, have lowered vaccination rates than others.

We want to deliver the science of the individual level, but we also understand that these decisions have to be made at the community level.”

According to Walensky, the policy hasn’t changed for the unvaccinated.

“We have to take this foundational step that is completely based in science and understand what it means as we open the entire country,” she said.

In a separate interview on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Walensky said the new guidance will be “a slow process” since for 16 months, the guidance has been for everybody to wear a mask.

“The other thing is every community is not the same. Not all communities have vaccination rates that are high,” she said. “And some communities still have case rates that are high. These decisions have to be made at the community level. But what we are saying to those essential workers is that if those workers are vaccinated, they are safe. So it's really we are really asking the businesses to work with their workers to make sure that they have the paid time off to get themselves vaccinated so they can be safe.”

She acknowledged the confusion about the new guidance, and said there’s “hard work” ahead for CDC to break down what that means in different settings — but that for the unvaccinated, the guidance is the same: “wear a mask.”

“I know that we need to do the hard work. This was individual guidance to understand what this means for communities, what this means for businesses. We know at the individual level the vaccinated people are safe,” she said. “more than one-third of Americans have been vaccinated. Over 45% of adults above the age of 18. Those people are safe when they get vaccinated after they are fully vaccinated.”

“This was the first building block,” she added. “We, as a society, have the hard work to do — as we at CDC are doing — to say what does that mean in the whole plethora of settings that we have, in child care settings, retail businesses, in schools, in camps, in travel.”

Walensky said of the 115 million Americans now vaccinated, 223 have died.

“We are aware of 223 as of May 10 that are among the 115 million people that have been vaccinated by that time,” she said, adding “not all of those 223 cases who had COVID actually died of COVID. They may have had mild disease but died, for example, of a heart attack.”

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