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Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Questions Still Swirl Around New CDC Mask Guidance

May 17, 2021 — To some a walk-back, to others a clarification, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, said people need to be “honest with themselves” when it comes to wearing a mask after the agency’s new guidance announced last week.

Walensky made a number of appearances on Sunday morning talk shows to defend the agency’s new policy. On CNN’s State of the Union show, for example, she said the honor system plays a role, so people who are protected through vaccination no longer have to wear a mask in most settings.

“How’s the honor system going?” Leanne M. Redman, PhD, a women’s health researcher in Baton Rouge, LA, asked on Twitter on Monday. “Seems like it’s no masks in Louisiana.”

Walensky also appeared on Fox News Sunday explaining that the new guidance is based on science that emerged in the previous 2 weeks: studies that support the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines.

The easing of mask requirements only applies to people fully vaccinated. “For the unvaccinated, our policy has not changed,” she said on ABC’s This Week.

The new CDC guidance came as a surprise to many. It also continues to generate multiple questions — particularly on social media — about how the recommendations should play out in different settings and scenarios.

Emergency room doctor Megan Ranney, MD, tweeted that the announcement came sooner than expected. She had predicted mask-wearing would not be relaxed until summer. “A couple weeks ago, I suggested on @CNNOpinion that CDC guidelines about masks would shift in early summer, as more Americans get vaccinated. (Because – vaccines work marvelously well, full stop.) Today’s announcement is frankly sooner than I expected.”

A strong opinion against the CDC’s action came from Lawrence Gostin of the World Health Organization Center on Global Health Law. On Saturday, he tweeted that the move was “one of the CDC’s most serious errors” in recent memory.

Other health care professionals and experts were quick to weigh in both for and against the new guidance.

To wear or not wear a mask remains a question, even among the fully vaccinated. ET Mitra, a gastrointestinal nurse in New York City, shared this concern on Twitter: “I saw too many COVID-19 horror stories and I still prefer to mask up around strangers. If I choose to wear my mask indoors are people going to think I’m anti-vax?”

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