MedPage Today – by Lawrence O. Gostin, JD

Op-Ed: What Was CDC Thinking With Its New Mask Guidance?

— The agency has lurched from over-caution to abandoning all caution

This opinion piece will be sharply critical of the new CDC guidance on masking for individuals who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, so I want to begin by saying the agency has been, and remains, the envy of the world. There’s good reason why China, Korea, Europe, and Africa all named their public health agencies after the CDC. When CDC speaks, scientists fall behind in lockstep, and the public trusts and follows its advice.

But not this time. Its mask guidance has been greeted by scientists and the public alike as confusing, inconsistent, and frankly, unsupported by scientific evidence. I’ll explain why.

The CDC has lurched from over-caution to abandoning all caution. Just over 2 weeks ago, the CDC recommended universal masking in indoor spaces. The nation’s top health officials pleaded with the public to wear masks or face dire consequences. Now CDC states that the fully vaccinated “can resume activities that you did prior to the pandemic” without wearing a mask or distancing. In other words, CDC gave a bright green light to return to normal — indoor dining, shopping, and resumption of schools, colleges, and workplaces. It seems a bit premature to declare victory.

You might think there were new, important scientific findings justifying such a dramatic shift — there weren’t. Vaccines are almost flawless at preventing serious disease and death, and they do significantly reduce SARS-CoV-2 transmission. But we knew that weeks ago. The U.S. has vaccinated more people in the last several weeks, but we’ve been on track to do that for quite some time. And remember, CDC guidance doesn’t just apply to affluent zip codes with high vaccination rates. It applies equally to areas that have very low coverage. And in such a mobile society as ours, there will be lots of travel to all areas of the country.

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