Story at a glance

  • New CDC guidance permitting people who have been fully vaccinated to gather in public or private without masks has stirred controversy and confusion.
  • CDC director Rochelle Walensky reiterated the agency’s position on NBC’s "Meet the Press" on Sunday, saying that the decision was based on science and data.
  • “Right now, the data, the science shows us that it’s safe for vaccinated people to take off their masks,” Walensky said, encouraging leaders to continue monitoring the situation in their own communities.

Top health officials are defending new guidance permitting people who have been fully vaccinated to gather in public or private without masks after the announcement stirred controversy and confusion. 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director Rochelle Walensky reiterated the agency’s position on NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday, saying that the decision was based on science and data and encouraging leaders to continue monitoring the situation in their own communities. 

"Everybody, as we are working towards opening up again after 16 months getting out of this pandemic, will need to understand what they need to do locally. And this was not permission to shed masks for everybody everywhere. This was really science-driven individual assessment of your risk," Walensky said.

"Right now, the data, the science shows us that it’s safe for vaccinated people to take off their masks. I, as the CDC director, promised the American people I would convey that science to you as we know it," she added. 


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White House chief medical advisor Anthony Fauci echoed Walensky’s comments regarding the CDC’s data-driven guidance Sunday on CBS’s Face The Nation. 

"The accumulation of all of those scientific facts, information and evidence brought the CDC to make that decision to say now when you're vaccinated, you don't need to wear a mask, not only outdoors, but you don't need to wear it indoors," Fauci said.


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But critics argue the new guidance puts continually vulnerable groups at risk. 

Washington Post columnist Leana S. Wen wrote in an opinion piece the agency’s decision removes the guidance’s protective barrier for immunocompromised people who have been vaccinated, as well as children awaiting their first doses. 

"Let’s say you go the grocery store. It’s crowded and few people there are masked," Wen wrote. "Perhaps everyone is vaccinated, but perhaps not. What if you’re vaccinated but not fully protected because you’re immunocompromised?"

"You can no longer count on CDC rules to help you keep safe. What if you don’t have childcare, so you had to bring your kids along?" Wen wrote. "They didn’t choose to remain unvaccinated — the shots aren’t available for them. Surely it’s not fair to put them at risk."

Meanwhile, Walensky was adamant that mask removal is not a mandate and acknowledged that it could be a slow process for Americans to feel comfortable going maskless in public. 

"We are asking people to be honest with themselves," Walensky said. "If they are vaccinated and they are not wearing a mask, they are safe. If they are not vaccinated and they are not wearing a mask, they are not safe."


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Published on May 17, 2021