CDC Director Rochelle Walensky on Sunday defended her agency’s abrupt reversal on face mask wearing but did little to clear up lingering confusing caused by the change in policy.
She also said those who are not vaccinated must still wear face coverings and it would be done on the ‘honor system.’
‘The honor system is to be honest with yourself. If you are vaccinated, we are saying you are safe, you can take off your mask, and you are not at risk of severe disease or hospitalization from COVID-19. If you are not vaccinated, you are not safe. Please go get vaccinated or continue to wear your mask,’ she said on Fox News Sunday.
Walensky said the order change came because the science has ‘really just evolved’ regarding how protected vaccinated people are from getting COVID-19.
‘We now have science that has really just evolved even in the last two weeks that demonstrates that these vaccines are safe, they are effective,’ she said on ABC’s This Week.
But, adding to the confusion, she also said the order wasn’t blanket approval for everyone to stop wearing face masks.
‘We also need to say that this is not permission for widespread removal of masks,’ she added. ‘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.’
She said most decisions on the matter would be made at the ‘community level.’
‘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,’ Walensky noted.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky on Sunday defended her agency’s abrupt reversal on face mask wearing but said those not vaccinated must still mask up, telling Fox News Sunday the ‘honor system’ would be used
In four media appearances on Sunday, Dr. Rochelle Walensky didn’t clear up any of the linger confusing brought about the CDC’s abrupt change on wearing a face mask
In four media appearances on Sunday, Walensky didn’t address questions about the confusion being caused by the new policy that says fully vaccinated Americans do not have to wear masks outdoors and in most indoor settings, aside from crowded places such as buses and planes
Despite the new policy from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention some businesses still require face coverings and many states have not changed their own policies.
‘Can you see, since this is big news for every American, can you see how your guidance, the vaccinated people can take their masks off, but requirements from businesses, local governments, to keep the masks on, are sending a mixed message,’ CNN’s Dana Bash asked her.
‘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,’ she said.
‘And what we’re really asking in those settings is to say, in terms of the honor system, people have to be honest with themselves. You’re protected if you’re vaccinated. You’re not if you’re not vaccinated,’ she noted.
Walensky instead said businesses should try to make sure their employees are vaccinated.
‘This was individual guidance to understand what this means for communities, what this means for businesses,’ she said on State of the Union.
‘What we’re 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 said.
The CDC director dismissed the idea of a ‘vaccine mandate’ on a federal level but conceded some local communities and businesses may take that step.
‘We’re not counting on vaccine mandates at all. It may very well be that local businesses, local jurisdictions will work towards vaccine mandates. That is going to be locally driven and not federally driven,’ she said on NBC’s Meet the Press.
She also said it would be up to individual businesses to decide whether or not people must prove they are vaccinated.
‘I think that’s really going to have to be industry-by-industry,’ she said on Fox News Sunday. ‘I can see why in certain situations, for example the cruise ship industry, would be important to understand how protective the people who are taking the voyage are. I can also see how difficult it might be in other situations. So I think that that’s going to have to be an industry-by-industry discussion.’
Despite the new policy from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention some businesses still require face coverings and many states have not changed their own policies above people in Michigan keep their face coverings on
The change in CDC policy brought about mask confusion with some taking them off as seen above in Times Square in New York
The new CDC policy ‘was individual guidance to understand what this means for communities, what this means for businesses,’ Dr. Rochelle Walensky said on CNN’s State of the Union
There was massive mask confusion following CDC updating its recommendations for face coverings as some governors lifted their states’ mask mandates while others keep them in place.
Businesses were also caught off guard with major retailors now having to weigh whether or not to require coverings in their stores and how to be sure who is vaccinated and who is not.
Even Saturday Night Live addressed the issue.
‘A lot of people had questions such as “What does that mean?” “What the hell are you talking about?” “Is this a trap?”‘ cast member Kate McKinnon, who played Dr. Anthony Fauci, said at the beginning of the show’s cold open.
Walensky was asked about the confusion during her appearances on ABC, CNN, Fox and NBC but didn’t address the question directly, instead encouraging people to get vaccinated if they have not been.
But she dismissed the idea there would be a ‘vaccine police.’
‘We are asking people to take their health into their own hands, to get vaccinated and if they don’t they continue to be at risk,’ she said.
And she told CNN an ‘honor system’ would be in place.
‘In terms of the honor system, people have to be honest with themselves. You’re protected if you’re vaccinated, you’re not if you’re not vaccinated,’ she said on State of the Union.
Additionally, several medical experts told The Washington Post they were worried the change in policy came too soon would undercut two of the simplest and effective tools in preventing the transmission of COVID-19 – wearing masks and physical distancing.
Slightly more than 121 million Americans have been fully vaccinated – about a third of the population – and the Pfizer vaccine was just approved for 12-to-15-year olds. Doctors said that is not enough people to start lifting preventative measures.
Walensky said as communities review their next steps in the reopening process, they should factor in the protections for those vaccinated.
‘I think it’s really important to understand that, as communities are working one at a time locally to figure out what their policies are going to be as they open up, that they understand what is important and what is true for individuals who are vaccinated,’ she said on NBC’s Meet the Press.
‘This was not permission to shed masks for everybody everywhere,’ she added. ‘This was really science driven, individual assessment of your risk.’
Asked why guidance wasn’t ready for states, communities, businesses and travel before announcing the new rule, Walensky said there wasn’t time for it to be ready.
‘It was very clear that places were starting to make their own assessments and we wanted to make sure that they understood that it was safe at the individual level. It was going to be nearly impossible for us to revise all the thousands of pages of our guidance simultaneously and release it all one at a time. We needed this building block, this first step, so that we could say, “This is the science upon which all future guidance will be based upon,”‘ she said.
The CDC director, appearing on four of the Sunday morning public affairs shows, was pressed repeatedly about the sudden shift in face mask guidance.
The new announcement came on Thursday. But on Tuesday, Walensky told senators at a hearing on Capitol Hill that we must ‘maintain public health measures we know will prevent the spread of this virus: mask hygiene, hand hygiene, and physical distancing.’
‘Things in this pandemic are starting to turn around,’ she said on Fox News Sunday. ‘And what’s also happening is we’re getting data, evolving data, on the science.’
She said there was no outside pressure – political or otherwise – that caused the change in policy.
‘I can tell you it certainly would have been easier if the science had evolved a week earlier and I didn’t have to go to Congress making those statements. But I’m delivering the science as the science is delivered to the medical journals,’ she said.
She said she was ‘cautiously optimistic’ the end of the pandemic was in sight.
‘I think it’s premature to declare victory. We have to remain humble. We’ve had way to many curveballs in this pandemic come to us. But I am really cautiously optimistic that we are in a good place right now, that cases continue to come down. We are watching it really carefully,’ she said.
But, before she testified on Tuesday, Walensky had made the decision the night before to approve a recommendation from CDC officials to significantly change its policy so fully vaccinated individuals did not have to wear masks or physically distance in most cases, The Washington Post reported.
‘We were actively reviewing that science during the past week. We were making decisions and moving in our subject matter experts while working just as I was testifying in front of Congress and those — that what was happening,’ she said on ABC’s ‘This Week.’
‘I told the American people I deliver the science as soon as we have,’ she added.