CDC blows it (again) with mangled mask-mandate message

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had some really big news last week: It’s time to return to normal.

“If you are fully vaccinated, you can resume activities that you did prior to the pandemic,” the CDC said in an updated guidance on COVID-19. “Fully vaccinated people can resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing.”

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky went further, saying: “Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities — large or small — without wearing a mask or physically distancing. If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic.”

So, phew! The pandemic is over! Just in time for summer! Back to the bars, the restaurants, big clubs, baseball games. We have finally — finally — made it through the worst virus crisis in a century.

Walmart, Costco, Sam’s Club, Publix and Trader Joe’s all immediately announced that they’d ditch the mask requirements.

Over, done, finis (as in the word pronounced “fin-EE”).

But it didn’t take long for the CDC to yank back the dollar it’d been dragging along the sidewalk. The U.S. health agency added a caveat to its new mask guidance: “except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.”

Wait, tribal laws? That’s right. It turns out the CDC “guidance” meant diddly squat. What rules us all are state and local laws. Hang on, there’s more: Every business and office building and sports venue can also have its own rules too.

The CDC issued its new guidance Thursday. By Sunday, Ms. Walensky was singing a whole ’nother song. She hit the political talk shows to walk it all back.

“The guidance that we released on Thursday is about individuals and what individuals are at risk of doing if they are not vaccinated,” she said on ABC’s “This Week,” adding that decisions on mask mandates need to be made at the “community level.”

The CDC director also appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union,” where she said the new guidance will be “a slow process” to implement and won’t happen everywhere at the same time. In one of the greatest understatements since President Biden took office, Ms. Walensky acknowledged that the new guidance has created confusion that will take “hard work” to explain.

“I know that we need to do the hard work. This was individual guidance to understand what this means for communities, what this means for businesses. We know at the individual level the vaccinated people are safe,” she said. “More than one-third of Americans have been vaccinated, over 45% of adults above the age of 18. Those people are safe when they get vaccinated after they are fully vaccinated.”

But they still have to wear a mask if they go — well, almost anywhere.

Former Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams said Monday that the CDC blew the rollout.

“I think the play call was right, but they fumbled the ball at the one-yard line in terms of communicating this to the public,” he said on CNN’s “New Day.”

Dr. Adams, who served as surgeon general under President Donald Trump from 2017 through the end of his term in 2021, said the new CDC guidance left everyone “blindsided.”

“I think you miss the nuance about protecting yourself versus protecting an organization,” he said. “It was a little bit of whiplash for the American public in terms of them saying just a week before, ‘Keep your mask on’ and then all of sudden they’re saying, ‘Now you can take them off.’”

And then they said, “Nah, put ’em back on.”

The CDC has badly blown it before. First, the agency said the virus was transmitted by touching surfaces with the germs. But just last month, it said “it is possible for people to be infected through contact with contaminated surfaces or objects (fomites), but the risk is generally considered to be low.”

The CDC also claimed there was roughly a 10% of catching the virus outdoors, but experts this month said that the risk is less than 1%. The CDC reportedly based its outdoor transmission figure on research that came from cases at construction sites in Singapore.


Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican, summed up the chaos during a Senate hearing with Ms. Walensky.

“I always considered the CDC to be the gold standard. I don’t anymore,” she said during a Capitol Hill hearing Tuesday.

“So, here we have unnecessary barriers to reopening schools, exaggerating the risks of outdoor transmission, and unworkable restrictions on summer camps. Why does this matter?” Ms. Collins asked. “It matters because it undermines public confidence in your recommendation, in the recommendations that do make sense, in the recommendations that Americans should be following.”

Really makes you wonder what else the CDC got wrong and is still getting wrong, doesn’t it?

• Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times. He can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @josephcurl.

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