Roundup: New federal guidance not permits wide-ranging removal of masks in U.S.

May 17, 2021

Roundup: New federal guidance not permits wide-ranging removal of masks in U.S.

Washington (US), May 17: New mask guidance for vaccinated individuals does not grant permission for widespread removal of masks, the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky said on Sunday.
"If they're vaccinated, they are safe. If they are not vaccinated, they are not safe. They should still be wearing a mask or better yet, get vaccinated," she told "This Week," a flagship program of the national broadcaster ABC.
Walensky and other U.S. health officials have stressed that their guidance is up to individuals to follow and if vaccinated people wish to continue wearing their masks they can.
"We wanted to deliver the science of the individual level, but we also understand that these decisions have to be made at the community's level," she said.
"Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities, large or small, without wearing a mask or physical distancing," Walensky told a White House briefing on Thursday. "If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic."
"We have all longed for this moment when we can get back to some sense of normalcy," she added.
Since the new mask guidance was announced, many states, local governments and businesses have updated their mask ordinances based on the CDC's recommendation that vaccinated individuals can be maskless indoors, outdoors or in large crowds. The guidelines still call for masks to be worn on public transportation and in homeless shelters, hospitals and prisons.
Some states, including California, Hawaii, Massachusetts and New York, are keeping their universal mask mandates intact.
Schools should continue to require face masks "at all times, by all people in school facilities" for the rest of the academic year, according to updated CDC guidance issued on Saturday.
Strict rules requiring mask use and physical distancing should remain in schools nationwide "regardless of the level of community transmission" of coronavirus, the CDC insisted.
That's because "students will not be fully vaccinated by the end of the 2020-2021 school year," the document explained. In addition, school systems will need time to make "systems and policy adjustments" relating to their mask rules.
"The challenge here is that not everybody is eligible for vaccination," Walensky told ABC on Sunday. "We still have children under the age of 11 and they should obviously still be wearing masks. So, if you're unvaccinated, we are saying, wear a mask, continue to distance if you're unvaccinated and practice all of those mitigation strategies."
"We are asking people to take their health into their own hands to get vaccinated, and if they don't, then they continue to be at risk," she added.
No coronavirus vaccine has yet been authorized for children under age 12, and the Pfizer two-dose jab won approval for 12-to-15-year-olds just days ago -- not enough time before the school year ends for full immunity to kick in.
Meanwhile, mask rules should be followed by school administrators, teachers and visitors, even if they are fully vaccinated, in order to "encourage modeling of correct and consistent mask use" for students, the CDC said.
The CDC is facing criticism from some infectious disease specialists who are concerned that there is no way of knowing who is vaccinated -- leaving vulnerable populations, including some children who don't have the option of getting vaccinated, at risk if everyone decides to stop wearing masks.
"While progress against the pandemic is being made, Americans eager to enjoy spring weather are receiving mixed messages about masking," said another national broadcaster CBS in its report on Saturday.
"What the CDC released are just guidelines on mask wearing -- leaving it up to states, stores, sports venues and the rest to decide if masks are required. What the U.S. is now seeing mirrors what we've seen throughout the pandemic: a patchwork of rules that vary from place to place," it added.
Whatever the decision, one thing is clear: the CDC's new guidelines specifically apply to vaccinated people; people who are not vaccinated should not be taking off their masks.
The changes came as more than one-third of Americans are fully vaccinated. They also came as the average number of new cases slipped below 35,000, the lowest since September.
"Today is a great day for America," U.S. President Joe Biden said during a Rose Garden address heralding the new guidance on Thursday, an event where he and his staff went without masks.
"If you are fully vaccinated, you no longer need to wear a mask," he said, summarizing the new guidance and encouraging more Americans to get the shot. "Get vaccinated -- or wear a mask until you do."
Source: Xinhua