Two of the nation’s top coronavirus health experts on Sunday hit back at Republican lawmakers’ concerns that a recent relaxation of mask guidelines by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is political, instead insisting that the sudden change is based on evolving science from recent scientific studies.
“It evolved over this last week,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, speaking on “Fox News Sunday,” said of the scientific data that supports the national public health agency easing its indoor mask-wearing guidance for fully vaccinated Americans on Thursday. “The cases came down over the last two weeks. And so that’s — I delivered it as soon as I can when we had that information available.”
Walensky cited two supporting studies that were published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Thursday — the same day the CDC changed its guidance ― to justify the organization’s decision.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, also stood by the CDC’s changes, saying new evidence shows there’s a “very, very low likelihood” that fully vaccinated people will transmit the virus, whether they’re wearing a mask or not.
“Even though there are breakthrough infections with vaccinated people, almost always the people are asymptomatic and the level of virus is so low it makes it extremely unlikely — not impossible but very, very low likelihood — that they’re going to transmit it,” he said in a separate interview Sunday with CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
Walensky’s and Fauci’s responses follow Republican lawmakers immediately questioning the timing of the CDC’s decision last week, with some suggesting that it was planned as a distraction, orchestrated by the White House, from other pressing global and national events.
“While the new mask guidance is encouraging, the CDC and my Far Radical Left colleagues only chose to do this to distract from the consequences of catastrophic policy decisions that have been heard around the world,” said Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, according to Fox News.
“Why today? The science hasn’t changed,” Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) tweeted.
This criticism follows Senate Republicans on Tuesday complaining to Walensky at a hearing that the CDC wasn’t moving fast enough in lifting restrictions and that the agency was exaggerating the risks of outdoor transmission.
Fauci, responding to the latest round of concerns following Thursday’s update, repeated that the CDC’s changes are based on the latest information.
“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,” he said.
The CDC’s guidance still calls for fully vaccinated people to wear masks when in crowded indoor settings, like inside buses, planes, prisons and homeless shelters. Those fully vaccinated no longer have to wear a mask when outside and in crowds, however.
As a nation, Walensky said it’d be “premature to declare victory,” but based on current case counts, she believes “we are in a good place right now.”
“I have cautious optimism but my vigilance hasn’t changed,” she said.
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