Republicans Criticize CDC for 'Conflicting, Confusing Guidance,' Including Mask Mandate for Alaskan Fishermen

By Susan Jones | May 12, 2021 | 5:45am EDT
Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. David Kessler and Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Rochelle Walensky are among those issuing guidance on dealing with the COVID pandemic.(Photo by SUSAN WALSH/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. David Kessler and Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Rochelle Walensky are among those issuing guidance on dealing with the COVID pandemic.(Photo by SUSAN WALSH/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

(CNSNews.com) - Several Senate Republicans chided the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday for what Sen. Susan Collins called "conflicting, confusing guidance" from CDC, especially as it relates to schools, summer camps, and mask mandates.

"So here we have unnecessary barriers to reopening schools, exaggerating the risks of outdoor transmission, and unworkable restrictions on summer camps," Collins (R-Maine) told CDC Director Rochelle Walensky. "Why does this matter? It matters because it undermines public confidence in your recommendations, in the recommendations that do make sense, in the recommendations that Americans should be following."

"The American people are incredibly frustrated," Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) told medical experts testifying before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. "And as Senator Collins says, they're beginning to disregard what you say that's true, because...so much of what you say is patently not true.

"I have to wear a mask when I'm outside and the wind is blowing at 20 miles an hour," Cassidy said, referring to CDC guidance on wearing masks outdoors. The guidance has been updated, he acknowledged, "but it was only changed recently."

Cassidy urged the experts, particularly the CDC, to be aware of people's frustration and to "be more real" in the guidance they issue.

"A lot of frustration this morning," Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) told the panel. "And I think, as Senator Cassidy mentioned, it kind of reflects the frustration that Americans have with where we are. We're all tired with COVID. We're done with COVID. But as many have said, COVID is not yet done with us. But how we're able to make sense of the guidance that comes out of CDC is critically important."

Murkowski said her particular frustration is getting Alaska's seasonal tourist industry up and running quickly. "There were 48 tourists that came to Alaska on a cruise ship last year, and right now it doesn't look much better," she said.

She also criticized the federal mask mandate for Alaska's fishermen:

If you think about those mandates that really don't make sense, the fact that the Coast Guard is requiring--because they--it's federal law out there that persons traveling on a conveyance or at a transportation hub wear a mask for the duration of their travel.

So I've got--I've got fishermen, commercial fishermen that are out there in the water. I've got crabbers, and salmon fishermen and cod fishermen that are trying to deal with a mask because they're concerned about failure to comply.

This is more of a safety hazard than anything. You're out on a boat. The winds are howling. Your mask is soggy wet. Tell me--tell me how anybody thinks that this is a sane and a sound policy to do.

So I--we've got a situation right now where the fishermen are more concerned about the liability in failing to have the mask on rather than prudent marine safety protocols. This--this is absolutely, absolutely a crazy policy.

I just don't understand--I don't understand how we put our Coast Guard men and women in a situation where they know that safety is at issue, a broader safety issue than the fear of transmission when you are outdoor, in the elements and you are now being required to wear a mask. So I would hope that the CDC would reconsider this quickly, quickly, quickly.

Walensky told Murkowski the CDC is "in the process of finalizing industry-specific guidance for exactly this reason."

Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) also weighed in on the absurdity of fishermen being forced to wear masks:

"I just want to second what Senator Murkowski said about getting the guidance to the fishing industry out as quickly as you can," Hassan told the committee. "I just met with my fisherman at the Yankee Fisherman's co-op in New Hampshire this week, and we've got boats of fishermen who are fully vaccinated, who see the Coast Guard coming and telling them they have to keep their masks on.

"Not only is a wet mask dangerous out on the open water, but because of the noise, both the wind and the equipment, these guys are used to relying on kind of sign language on the boat. And with a mask on, they really can't, and it's a real safety issue. So, I--I hope you will take this under advisement and get the guidance out as quickly as you can."

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