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CDC director says decision to recommend masks again ‘weighed heavily’ on her

  • CDC Director Rochelle Walensky defended her agency’s decision to shift its guidance on masking.
  • “This was not news that I expected the American people to welcome,” she said on Fox News.
  • The CDC this week recommended that fully vaccinated people mask up in areas of high transmission.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky on Friday defended her agency’s decision this week to recommend that fully vaccinated people wear face masks in public months after the agency recommended the opposite.

“This was not news that I expected the American people to welcome. This weighed heavily on me to have to do this,” Walensky said during a Friday appearance on Fox News.

“I have no interest in continuing mask guidance, and the best way to stop a new variant from spreading is to have less virus out there and the best way to do that is to get people vaccinated and to mask up until they are,” she added.

The agency changed its guidance on wearing masks this week, recommending that individuals in areas of the US with a high spread of the disease wear masks regardless of their vaccination status. It also said that students and staff in K-12 schools should mask up this fall even if they’ve been vaccinated. 

CDC officials linked the new guidance to the surge of cases propelled by the more contagious Delta variant of the disease, which is now the dominant COVID-19 strain in the US. There were more than 122,000 new COVID-19 cases reported in the US on Friday — a five-month high.

While fully vaccinated individuals can contract and spread the disease, the COVID-19 vaccines are effective in preventing serious illness and death against the variant. According to data from the CDC, 49.5% of people in the US are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, while 57.4% of people in the US are at least partially vaccinated.

The announcement this week was at odds with previous CDC guidance announced in May when the agency said fully vaccinated people could go without masks in nearly all indoor and outdoor settings. It still recommended that unvaccinated individuals continue to wear their masks in indoor settings.

That guidance came months after the agency in February recommended double masking to further boost protection from COVID-19 before vaccines were widely available. 

Walensky previously said the change this week was a result of new information on the transmission of the highly contagious Delta variant.

“Information on the Delta variant from several states and other countries indicates that, on rare occasions, some vaccinated people infected with the Delta variant after vaccination may be contagious and spread the virus to others,” she said Tuesday.

“This new science is worrisome and unfortunately warrants an update to our recommendations,” she added.

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