A growing number of health experts vaccinated against COVID-19 have said they will keep their masks on in public places, with federal officials acknowledging that new recommendations for relaxed masks issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention must be clarified.
The comments point to a growing pullback in some quarters on the CDC’s surprise decision to rescind mask recommendations last week. Some retailers have said they are maintaining mask requirements, while others, including Trader Joe’s and Walmart, have lifted them, with some chains clarifying the easing applied only in states and local areas that already have restrictions. relatively loose mask rules.
In California, which has relatively strict mask mandates, officials have yet to release their detailed response to the CDC’s relaxed guidelines, although Gov. Gavin Newsom said on Friday that the federal recommendations had “created new anxiety for many. : that it might be too soon. , too much.”
Experts are divided, but some say it pays to be careful right now.
“I strongly recommend that others wear a mask when they are in an indoor area where both vaccinated and unvaccinated people mix, such as grocery stores,” tweeted Dr Carlos del Rio, infectious disease expert and executive associate dean at the Emory School of Medicine in Atlanta.
Addition of Dr Ashish Jha, Dean of Brown University School of Public Health, in a Tweeter: “Here is my personal practice at the moment: continue to mask the interior of public places like grocery stores until others are vaccinated and the number of infections decreases.”
“Add me to this list as well,” Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, Director of the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at UC San Francisco, replied in a tweet. “Wear my mask indoors just a little longer until the fares [of vaccinated people] are higher. “
Leading scientists and doctors have generally agreed that people who have been vaccinated should feel very sure that they have good protection against COVID-19.
But some suggested waiting longer before allowing the removal of masks among those vaccinated in indoor public places; they fear that unvaccinated people will defy the rules and also go without a mask, which increases the risk of transmission among unvaccinated people and potentially exposes children too young to be vaccinated or those who are immunocompromised.
In an interview last week, Bibbins-Domingo said the new guidelines could also pose a threat to people who want the vaccine but couldn’t get it for various reasons.
Some experts welcomed the CDC’s guidance and agreed it would provide an incentive for those who may have delayed the COVID-19 vaccine.
Dr Monica Gandhi, infectious disease expert at UC San Francisco, tweeted that the CDC was trying to communicate vaccine effectiveness after being criticized for a previously overly cautious approach, but guidelines released Thursday “likely backfired.”
One approach that might end up working the best, Gandhi said, will be for local public health authorities to lift mask warrants when vaccination rates hit a certain threshold and daily rates of coronavirus cases also hit a target. .
Each public health department “will make its own decision and many will wait to lift the mask warrants for all at the same time, which is reasonable,” Gandhi said added.
The CDC changed its mask guidelines on Thursday to suggest that fully vaccinated people can stop wearing masks in most places – outdoors or indoors, with a few exceptions, such as on airplanes, buses and trains. Under the new federal directive, unvaccinated or partially vaccinated people are still advised to wear masks in most indoor and outdoor public places when they are near people outside their homes.
National Nurses United, the largest union representing registered nurses in the United States, criticized the CDC for suggesting that vaccinated people could stop wearing masks. “All of our protective measures must remain in place, in addition to the vaccines. This pandemic is not over, ”said Deborah Burger, union president, in a statement.
The CDC’s advice, while influential, is a recommendation, and it is up to state and county governments to ultimately decide what rules apply or whether to allow companies to make their own decisions.
CDC director Dr Rochelle Walensky faced some tough questions over the weekend as a result of the updated guidelines.
On NBC’s “Meet the Press” show, Walensky said the new mask guidelines were meant to help people understand that the latest scientific evidence shows that, in general, fully vaccinated people can. safely remove their masks in most settings. But she also acknowledged that the CDC now needs to provide more advice on what that means in settings where it’s not easy to know who is vaccinated.
“We all need to work together – and the CDC is working hard now – in saying what that means for schools, for travel, for camps, for businesses,” Walensky said.
She added: “It is not necessary for everyone to start ripping their masks. We were told for 16 months to protect ourselves and our families by putting on a mask. These behaviors will be really hard to change, and there is no mandate to suppress them. What we are saying is: now it’s safe. Work at your own pace, work with your own family and your own businesses to cut them down if necessary. “
Anyone with a weakened immune system – like chemotherapy and transplants – should see a doctor before removing a mask, because the COVID-19 vaccine may not have worked as well for these patients, Walensky said.
Dr.Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser on the pandemic, acknowledged on CBS’s ‘Face the Nation’ that there might be some merit in criticizing that the CDC should have better prepared the public for this sudden change. the orientation of the masks. Fauci said clarifying information would likely be released in the coming weeks.
“People will say, what about the workplace? And that? What about that? “Said Fauci.” I imagine that in just a few weeks you are going to start to see significant clarification on some of the really understandable and reasonable questions that people are asking.
In California, mask rules have not changed since the CDC relaxed its guidelines. They generally mirror previous CDC mask guidelines and, effective May 3, require masks to be worn by everyone in indoor environments outside the home. There are exceptions, such as when you are away from a workplace and everyone inside is vaccinated or when there are only unvaccinated household members present and everyone have a low risk of serious complications if they contract COVID-19.
In comments Thursday afternoon, Barbara Ferrer, LA County Director of Public Health, said she was also not ready to immediately implement the CDC’s new approach, saying Health Services Locals had not been informed in advance of the new directions and had requested time to review the CDC guidelines. . Ferrer said it would be important to keep workers as safe as possible and said California workplace safety standards requiring masks in workplaces remain in place.
LA County Supervisor Kathryn Barger wrote to Newsom, asking the state to align with federal guidelines.
“While we always want to keep our communities safe, I am encouraged by the new CDC guidelines and believe that the state and county of Los Angeles should immediately align with the new federal recommendations,” he said. -she writes.