CDC director Rochelle Walensky is grilled on mask guidance during heated Capitol Hill hearing 


Republican lawmakers tore into Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky Tuesday over health guidelines that remain in place even as more and more Americans get vaccinated.

‘I always considered the CDC to be the gold standard. I don’t anymore,’ Maine Senator Susan Collins said during a Capitol Hill hearing on the pandemic response Tuesday.

Collins, who was reelected to her fifth term in November, told Walensky that she ‘used to have the utmost respect for the guidance from the CDC’ but now feels it has issued ‘conflicting, confusing guidance’ that contradicts health officials.

‘I used to have the utmost respect for the guidance from the CDC. I always considered the CDC to be the gold standard. I don’t anymore,’ she lectured the agency head.

She accused the agency – whose leaders repeatedly said they operate based on the science and the available data – of ‘exaggerating’ the risk of transmission of COVID-19. 

‘So, here we have unnecessary barriers to reopening schools, exaggerating the risks of outdoor transmission, and unworkable restrictions on summer camps. Why does this matter?’ Collins continued. ‘It matters because it undermines public confidence in your recommendation, in the recommendations that do make sense, in the recommendations that Americans should be following.’ 

Republican senators tore into CDC Director Rochelle Walensky during a hearing Tuesday on the pandemic response, claiming the agency has been inconsistant and confusing

'I always considered the CDC to be the gold standard. I don't anymore,' Maine Senator Susan Collins said

‘I always considered the CDC to be the gold standard. I don’t anymore,’ Maine Senator Susan Collins said

The attack by Collins, an influential senator who sometimes cooperates with Democrats, came as her state’s Democratic governor joined a zoom call with President Joe Biden to talk about vaccine distribution and the pandemic. 

At one point, Maine Gov. Janet Mills joked about people in her state responded to the CDC’s initially recommended 6-foot social distancing guidance. ‘Some people asked, why so close?’ she quipped.  

Walensky – who in March warned about a feeling of ‘impending doom’ as U.S. infections rose – spoke with optimism about vaccines approved for young people aged 12-15 – even appearing to suggest they lobby their parents for the shot. 

She made the statement when asked about government approval to extend the emergency use authorization for Pfizer for children aged 12-15.

‘I recognize some parents want to see how it goes, but I am encouraging all children to be vaccinated,’ she said during the hearing. ‘And I am also encouraging children to ask for the vaccine.’

‘I have a 16-year-old and I continue he wanted to get the vaccine. He wants his life back,’ she said.  

Officials are eyeing young people as a cohort that can help boost the nation’s overall vaccine rates – with a substantial number of adults still saying they aren’t sure they want to get the shots. 

'The American people have just lost patience with us, with you guys,' Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy said. 'I would ask you to be aware of their frustrations and get a little real time into updating these things'

‘The American people have just lost patience with us, with you guys,’ Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy said. ‘I would ask you to be aware of their frustrations and get a little real time into updating these things’

Republican senators repeatedly pressed Walenksy and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci at Tuesday’s hearings over continued restrictions. They called mask mandates unreasonable as more Americans get vaccinated.

Senator Bill Cassidy (R-La.), a physician, also piled on the CDC.

He told Walensky Tuesday that the American people ‘are starting to disregard what you say is true.’

‘The American people have just lost patience with us, with you guys,’ Cassidy said. ‘I would ask you to be aware of their frustrations and get a little real time into updating these things. I am sorry to be so frustrated.’

The GOP attacks are the latest sign of ongoing political divides over mask mandates, school policies, and vaccines. Public polling has consistently showed greater vaccine hesitancy over getting the vaccine among Republicans. 

The CDC recently relaxed its guidelines over masks and other distancing, saying people who are fully vaccinated can do activities outside unmasked and even interact with unvaccinated people in the home.

It also eased up on its recommendations for outdoor activities, and coronavirus advisor Jeff Zients said on a call with governors Tuesday that renewed guidance was being considered. 

The hearing was held just as the Food and Drug Administration authorized Pfizer vaccines for children 12 and older. 

Previously, no one under the age of 16 was authorized to receive any of the coronavirus vaccines.

Walensky stood behind the current CDC guidance and pointed to immunocompromised communities but got personal when talking about kids being able to attend summer camp, claiming her 16-year-old son counts down the days until camp.

‘I want our kids back in camp,’ she said. ‘We now have 38,000 new infections, on average, per day. Last May 11th, it was 24,000. And we sent a lot of kids home and camps were closed. The camp guidance is intended to get our kids to camp and allow them to stay there.’



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