The Washington Post reports Thursday that “outside scientists” are asking the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to release the “new data” cited in their announcement revising mask mandates for areas at high risk of COVID-19 transmission.
Republican legislators and some commentators noted Wednesday that the CDC did not provide an explicit scientific rationale for returning to indoor masking, even though the group’s director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, cited “new data” in her press conference announcing the change.
It turns out, though, that political figureheads are not the only ones asking questions.
The CDC’s report, experts noted to The Washington Post, cites only “CDC COVID-19 Response Team, unpublished data, 2021,” as the agency’s scientific justification for directing even individuals vaccinated against COVID-19 to mask up when indoors if they live in a county with high rates of the disease’s delta variant.
The Post notes that the CDC justified its revised mandate by noting that “[p]eople who have had their shots and become infected with the delta variant of the coronavirus can harbor large amounts of virus just like unvaccinated people. That means they could become spreaders of the disease and should return to wearing masks indoors in certain situations, including when vulnerable people are present.”
But the CDC “did not publish the new research” and now “outside scientists,” who spoke to the Post are curious.
“They’re making a claim that people with delta who are vaccinated and unvaccinated have similar levels of viral load, but nobody knows what that means,” Gregg Gonsalves, an associate professor at the Yale School of Public Health, told the outlet. “It’s meaningless unless we see the data.”
“When CDC Director Rochelle Walensky spoke to reporters Tuesday, she cited the ‘new scientific data’ but provided limited details about how the research was done,” the Post added. “She said the data comes from outbreak investigations in which researchers compared delta infections among vaccinated and unvaccinated people.”
The data, a “federal official” told the outlet, will be “published immediately,” but it was convincing enough that the CDC “saw the data and thought it was urgent enough to act,” even without publishing the information.
“Three senior administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal discussions said the new research convinced health officials that it was time to update the agency’s guidance. When scientists compared viral loads in vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals infected with an earlier variant of the virus — the alpha variant, which was dominant in the spring — there were considerable differences in the amount of virus each carried,” the Post added.
It is not clear whether the CDC is relying on peer-reviewed studies or its own collected data, either, leaving experts concerned.
The CDC’s updated guidance directs individuals to mask up indoors if they are in an area where the delta variant is spreading, but it also directs all individuals in a K-12 institutional setting to mask up, regardless of vaccination status and, it appears, regardless of location — a change from previous CDC guidance which suggested that each educational institution could make decisions on masking based on local rates of transmission.