Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky on Sunday defended her agency’s decision to update its guidance to allow vaccinated people not to wear face masks in most situations.
During an appearance on Fox News, host Chris Wallace pressed Walensky on the reasons behind the CDC’s “abrupt shift” in policy.
“On Wednesday night, you were still arguing, still making the case that people who are fully vaccinated needed to wear masks indoors,” Wallace posed to Walensky. “And then Thursday, less than 24 hours later, you said, no, it changed, now you don’t need masks if you’re fully vaccinated either indoors or outdoors. Would you agree that this abrupt shift was not handled as well as it might have been?”
Walensky responded that the agency had recently received involved new, “evolving data on the science” and said that “things in this pandemic are starting to turn around.”
As recently as Tuesday, Walensky testified before a Senate health committee and defended the administration’s previous mask guidelines.
Wallace also asked Walensky whether she could “state flatly to the American people” that no political pressure had factored into the CDC’s sudden decision.
“Yes, I can,” Walensky responded.
“I can tell you it certainly would have been easier if the science had evolved a week earlier and I didn’t have to go to Congress making those statements, but I’m delivering the science as the science is delivered to the medical journals,” she continued. “And, you know, it evolved over this last week. 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.”
The Fox host also questioned whether the CDC is relying on an “unrealistic honor system” when it comes to people saying they have been vaccinated and opting not to wear a mask.
“The honor system is to be honest with yourself,” the CDC director said. “If you are vaccinated, we are saying you are safe, you can take off your mask, and you are not at risk of severe disease or hospitalization from Covid-19. If you are not vaccinated, you are not safe. Please go get vaccinated or continue to wear your mask.”
On Friday, the CDC issued updated guidance with a major shift in its face mask recommendations. Vaccinated people no longer need to wear a mask indoors or outdoors or physically distance, even in large groups, the agency said, except where required by law or workplace guidance. Vaccinated individuals may also resume travel and do not need to get tested for the coronavirus around the time they travel or self-quarantine after they travel.
The sudden policy shift raised eyebrows among Biden’s critics, who felt that the decision smacked of politics and that the administration may have timed the positive announcement to offset a difficult week for Biden, with long gas lines, a dismal jobs report, and unrest in Israel.
Following the CDC’s announcement, several major retailers including Starbucks, Walmart, Trader Joe’s, and Cosco announced that they are lifting their face mask requirements for vaccinated customers.