CDC's Walensky: 'This Is Not Permission for Widespread Removal of Masks'

By Susan Jones | May 17, 2021 | 5:38am EDT
President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris appear without face masks to announced that fully vaccinated people don't need to wear them anymore. (Photo by NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images)
President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris appear without face masks to announced that fully vaccinated people don't need to wear them anymore. (Photo by NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images)

(CNSNews.com) - Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, went on all the Sunday talk shows to explain her agency's sudden and confusing about-face on face masks.

She told ABC's "This Week" that the guidance CDC released last Thursday -- that fully vaccinated people can resume activities without wearing a mask indoors or outdoors -- was driven by "science."

"We also need to say that this is not permission for widespread removal of masks," Walensky told "This Week."

"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 lower vaccination rates than others. We want to deliver the science at the individual level, but we also understand that these decisions have to be made at the community level," Walensky said.

She said something similar on NBC's "Meet the Press."

"I also want to convey that because our guidance changed on Thursday, there's no need for everybody to start ripping off their masks. We have been told for 16 months to keep ourselves and our family safe by putting a mask on. Those behaviors are going to be really hard to change, and there is no mandate to take it off.

"What we're saying is, now this is safe. Work at your own speed, work with your own family and your own businesses to remove them when necessary."

She told "Fox News Sunday" that political pressure had nothing to do with the sudden change in CDC masking guidelines.

Host Chris Wallace asked Walensky, "Can you state flatly to the American people that pressure had nothing to do with the abrupt shift in the CDC guidelines?"

"Yes, I can," Walensky said. She said it "would have been easier if the science had evolved" before she told Congress on May 11 that even with vaccinations proceeding, "while we continue to have community transmission, we must also maintain public health measures we know will prevent the spread of this virus -- masks, hand hygiene, and physical distancing."

Two days later, CDC lifted the mask mandate for vaccinated people. Walensky told the Sunday shows that the science was "evolving," even as she testified before Congress:

"Some of that science was really evolving as late as last Thursday, and one of the published -- one of the papers, the largest paper, was published from the CDC just the day before yesterday," Walensky told ABC's "This Week."

"So, we were actively reviewing that science during the past week. We were making decisions and moving in our subject matter experts while working just as I was testifying in front of Congress and those -- that what was happening."

On all of the Sunday shows, Walensky advised people to get vaccinated. "What I would say is, those unvaccinated people need to work to protect themselves, need to continue to mask. And better yet, need to get vaccinated," she told ABC. "We are asking people to take their health into their hands, to get vaccinated. And if they don't, then they continue to be at risk. For the unvaccinated, our policy has not changed."

Chuck Todd, host of "Meet the Press," asked Walensky if there was any concern that once CDC lifted the mask mandate, "you can never put it back," even if COVID cases spike again.

"We were pretty clear when we lifted it that the science right now tells us that it is safe for vaccinated people to take off their masks," Walensky responded.

"We also said that this virus has given us many curve balls over the last 16 months. We've also said that the more circulating virus that we have, the more likely it is that variants will emerge, and variants are really, you know, something that we have to keep very close eye on and we're doing a lot of sequencing at this time.

"Right now, the data, the science shows us that it is 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 when we knew it, and that's what I did on Thursday."

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