After the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) last week announced a big change to mask mandates, confusion reigned.
But Dr. Rochelle Walensky sought to clear that up on Sunday, saying the CDC’s new COVID-19 guidance on mask-wearing is not “permissions for widespread removal” of face coverings.
“The guidance that we released on Thursday is about individuals and what individuals are at risk of doing if they are not vaccinated,” Walensky said in an interview on ABC’s “This Week.” She added that decisions on mask mandates need to be made at the “community level.”
“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,” she said.
“We also need to say that this is not permission for widespread removal of masks,” Walensky said. “For those who are vaccinated, it may take some time 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.”
Walensky said mask guidance has not 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.
The CDC director also appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union,” where she said the new guidance will be “a slow process” to be implemented and won’t happen everywhere at the same time.
“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.”
Walensky also acknowledged that the new guidance has created confusion that will take “hard work” to explain.
“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,” Walensky 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.”
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