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Why in the world are White House reporters being told to mask up again?

The White House Correspondents Association informed reporters on Tuesday that they will all need to mask up again, citing the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) latest mask-wearing flip-flop that includes high transmission areas.

“We follow CDC guidance, and this afternoon Washington, D.C., was classified as having a substantial level of community transmission,” a White House official told The Hill.

“That means we will be prepared to wear masks again if required,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday. 

Pushback on the updated guidance was palpable during Tuesday’s briefing, including by CBS White House correspondent Weijia Jiang, who asked about the “whiplash” Americans — especially those who are vaccinated — may be feeling with on-and-off mask recommendations.

Psaki responded by saying the administration’s goal “is to save lives.”

But because partisanship has trumped both public health and science for much of the past year or more, courtesy of both political parties, the larger question of what makes sense medically got trampled by what seemed to be more White House posturing.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky says the fully vaccinated should wear masks in indoor public settings. “In areas with substantial and high transmission, CDC recommends fully vaccinated people wear masks in public, indoor settings to help prevent the spread of the delta variant, and protect others,” she said. “This includes schools.”  

But how exactly is Washington, D.C., considered a “substantial and high transmission” area? 

Since July 15, the nation’s capital, a city of 700,000 people, has had one COVID-19-related death. One. The seven-day average for the number of COVID cases was 52 cases per day as of July 27.

The total number of COVID-related deaths in the city since the beginning of July? Five, or about one every six days.  

Does that sound like “substantial and high transmission” rates to you? 

We’re a far cry from candidate Biden’s promise just days before Election Day regarding shutting down COVID.

“I’m not going to shut down the country. I’m not going to shut down the economy,” he tweeted on Oct. 30. “I’m going to shut down the virus.”

When asked about the president’s comments, particularly as they pertained to the vaccinated no longer needing to wear masks, Jen Psaki responded during Tuesday’s press briefing that “we were dealing with a very different strain of the virus” at the time.


Talk about moving the goalposts. 

And what does this newest guidance mean for encouraging the unvaccinated to get vaccinated in order to gain more freedoms? 

The issue of masking up or not has been politicized by both sides for months now, contributing to everyone’s general confusion and anxiety. Even some experts disagree. The best advice under the circumstances is to follow what the doctor you trust says — and many doctors agree that masks will protect you, even after being vaccinated, when you are in large groups of people who may or may not be carrying the virus. 

But what is the White House’s directive supposed to accomplish, exactly? When applying basic logic, if Harris is vaccinated, and her staff is vaccinated and reporters are vaccinated, then who is at risk in that highly controlled environment? No real explanation is being offered, which only contributes to the confusion and anxiety. As for breakthrough cases — such as those which occurred after Texas state Democratic lawmakers visited (and reportedly may have infected) aides to both Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) — an overwhelming number of those result in mild to no symptoms. 

Unquestionably, masks still are necessary or at least a wise precaution even for the vaccinated in many circumstances, particularly in crowds and confined spaces that may be high-risk. And if vaccinated individuals themselves think it is smart to mask up in any circumstance, then by all means they should do so.

But re-masking White House reporters and those covering the vice president seems to be a more politically driven issue than a public health matter spurred by a flailing CDC.

The president of the United States, who is going on 125 days since his last formal press conference, also has some explaining to do. Because here you had President Biden, who was handed effective vaccines that were already being administered at a clip of nearly one million shots per day upon entering office, declaring just two months ago that the days of wearing masks in most settings were over. 

“This recommendation holds true whether you are inside or outside. I think it’s a great milestone, a great day,” Biden said in May. “It’s been made possible by the extraordinary success we’ve had in vaccinating so many Americans so quickly.”

Of course, the argument from the left and many of its allies in the media is that this is a Republican voter problem, because conservatives are less likely than liberals to be vaccinated. But what’s rarely discussed – because it doesn’t fit a nice-neat political media narrative – is that the highest rate of unvaccinated is among Blacks, a decidedly Democratic constituency. 

According to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation, just 36 percent of Blacks have been fully vaccinated, compared to 41 percent of Hispanics, 48 percent of whites and 65 percent of Asians. 


Considering that Donald Trump received just 12 percent of the Black vote, according to exit polls, and the Black population isn’t exactly running to conservative media figures for news and opinion on COVID vaccines, the whole narrative that conservative voters and media members and Facebook (per the president’s own words that he later walked back) are responsible for COVID deaths flies in the face of the data. 

Starting Wednesday, masks will be back in the James S. Brady Briefing Room. The press secretary is vaccinated, as are all those on her team in the room. All White House reporters and correspondents are vaccinated as well. 

No matter: Team Biden has a show to put on — a show with the full support of the Keystone Cops at the CDC. 

Joe Concha is a media and politics columnist for The Hill and a Fox News contributor.

Tags Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; CDC COVID-19 vaccine Donald Trump Face masks during the COVID-19 pandemic Face masks during the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States Jen Psaki Joe Biden Nancy Pelosi Rochelle Walensky United States responses to the COVID-19 pandemic

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