With new guidance advising fully vaccinated Americans that they no long need to wear masks in most circumstances, indoor or outdoor, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) director is ‘cautiously optimistic that we are seeing this great, great end point in sight,’ she told the Today show on Friday.
As vaccinations rise and inoculated Americans unmask, COVID-19 cases and deaths are falling rapidly – by more than 30 percent and nearly nine percent, respectively, over the past two weeks.
The U.S. is now seeing about 630 fatalities a day – the lowest since early July – and about 35,000 new infections a day. Nearly 36 percent of the U.S. population and almost 47 percent of adults are fully vaccinated.
Amid the promising trends, Dr Rochelle Walensky reiterated her call for schools to reopen full time.
Despite telling fully vaccinated Americans they could shed their masks indoors less than 24 hours earlier, Dr Walensky suggested that parents teachers should keep theirs on when in public with their unvaccinated kids and in classrooms.
‘Parents and perhaps even teachers may want to continue wearing masks to model behavior’ for children who haven’t been vaccinated, Dr Walensky said.
It comes after the CDC’s advisory committee on Wednesday recommended Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for children between 12 and 15.
But parents are split about 50/50 over whether they want their kids to get the shots, which likely won’t be authorized for younger children until fall, so many American kids won’t be vaccinated against Covid for months, or ever.
Some parents, lawmakers and pundits have argued that kids should not have to wear masks or get vaccinated because coronavirus is very rarely fatal to children even if they do get infected, arguing that both measures primarily protect the adults around them, who can get vaccinated to protect themselves.
CDC Director Dr Rochelle Walensky said she is ‘cautiously optimistic that the U.S. is seeing the pandemic’s ‘end point in sight’ as coronavirus cases and deaths decline amid rising vaccination rates
Dr Walensky and the CDC have come under fire for issuing guidelines that have created confusion and for keeping measures in place longer than some believe was necessary.
The change to the CDC’s guidance came after Dr Walensky was grilled by lawmakers over previous advice.
Just two weeks ago, the CDC finally said that it was safe for fully vaccinated Americans to go without masks outdoors, so long as they were not in crowds.
That guidance cited the share of Covid transmission that has taken place outdoors as being ‘less than 10 percent.’
Experts were quick to point out that that figure was based on data from relatively confined settings, and the real outdoor transmission rate was likely much lower, with some estimating it to be less than one percent.
Shortly thereafter, the new guidelines advising vaccinated people they can take off their masks indoors was issued – but it, too, comes with caveats.
Masks are still supposed to be worn in some crowded indoor settings like planes and buses – by nearly 119 million fully vaccinated Americans, and unvaccinated people alike – but not in others crowded areas.
And Dr Walensky said that some Americans may choose to continue wearing masks, and encouraged parents and teachers to do so, but generally punted the issue to Americans to figure out whether or not to wear masks.
Vaccines are now recommended for children as young as 12, but most remain unvaccinated. Still, Dr Walensky urged schools to reopen, full-time, but to continue to have students wear masks in class
IN THE GREEN: CDC’s updated infographics shows that fully vaccinated Americans can safely do just about anything without wearing a mask
‘We’ve empowered the American people to make their own decisions,’ she said, while reiterating reassurances that if you are fully vaccinated, and sitting next to someone who is coughing in a restaurant or bar, ‘your risk is really quite low,’ Dr Walensky said.
She acknowledged the potential confusion that might arise from telling fully vaccinated people they can safely sit next to a coughing person in a bar without a mask, but they must keep one on on a plane, where research suggests the risk is quite low
The U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) currently has a federal policy requiring masks on all mass transit, including planes.
Dr Walensky pointed to the policy, but hinted that the CDC might soon say masks can come off on planes, too.
‘One at a time, we will revise that guidance [on specific settings] and travel will be high among them,’ she said.
While the CDC is endorsing the safety of going maskless in crowded bars, she still suggests that parents and teachers who are fully vaccinated, and therefore at a ‘quite low’ risk of getting infected with or spreading coronavirus, they should keep masks on themselves to encourage their kids to do the same – despite the low risk to children.
‘We will ask them to wear masks,’ Dr Walensky said of children, ‘because they are not yet eligible for vaccination and can infect their parents’ and others around them.’
Studies of schools show that this is rare, but does happen.
And even if infections among children don’t lead to outbreaks among adults, who can fall more severely ill or die of COVID-19, they may lead to school closures.
For the time being, the CDC is recommending that kids continue to wear masks in school because most are still unvaccinated.
But the agency has said for months now that schools can safely reopen without children being vaccinated because the risk they will get infected or infect adults is low – but apparently not low enough for kids to go maskless.
‘I believe that with the vaccine, the mitigation strategies that we have in place, with the testing strategy that we have in place thanks to the American Rescue Plan, that we really should all be back to school full-time, five days a week, teachers and children and educators alike,’ she said on the Today show.
‘I’m all for that.’