The Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) new guidance telling fully vaccinated Americans they can stop wearing masks indoors could inadvertently lead to an increase in infections in workplaces and elsewhere, doctors warn.
The CDC adjusted its mask guidance last week, saying that fully vaccinated individuals did not have to wear a mask indoors in most settings.
Dr Jeffrey Duchin, a member of the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, criticized the order for potentially causing confusion among Americans.
‘It was unexpected and lacked needed context for implementation by state and local public health community,’ he said during a press briefing Thursday.
The CDC released guidance last week allowing for fully vaccinated Americans to safely remove their masks in a majority of indoor settings.
Dr Anthony Fauci (left) is among a group of doctors and health officials that have criticized recent CDC guidance, saying that its unclear nature could lead to many unvaccinated individuals ditching their masks. CDC Director Dr Rochelle Walensky (right) defended her agency’s guidance on Wednesday, saying, ‘We are following the science each and every day’
Dr Duchin fears that the new guidance will not be properly implemented across the country due to its hasty release, and that it will cause the virus to uncontrollably spread in some communities.
‘There was no information on how to apply the guidance in practice, particularly related to the inability to verify vaccination status,’ he said.
‘What the CDC did though was sub-optimal and allowed for misimpression that the mask mandates have been lifted.’
Health officials believe that vaccinated people are safe to remove their masks in indoor spaces, as the vaccine has been proven effective in combating the spread of COVID-19.
The guidance from the CDC is not entirely clear, though, and some may misinterpret it as the agency saying it is safe for all Americans to remove masks, no matter their vaccine status.
The concern is that people who are not yet fully vaccinated will see others with their masks off, remove their own, and put those around them at risk – especially without the requirement of proof of vaccination.
‘Now the risk of COVID-19 spread is increased in crowded indoor spaces with unvaccinated people and especially with poor ventilation,’ Dr. Duchin said.
‘[The guidance] could lead to increased risk in public spaces and workplaces with preventable Covid-19 spread primarily among the unvaccinated.’
Dr Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said earlier this week that he also fears the guidance will be misinterpreted by many.
Dr Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, defended her agency’s guidance during an appearance on CNBC’s The News with Shepard Smith on Wednesday.
‘These issues are complex, the science is evolving, the science is moving, and we are following the science each and every day and our guidance is evolving as the science evolves,’ she said.
While the CDC can release guidance for local officials and businesses across the country, individual states, municipalities and private businesses set mask mandates as they see fit.
Guidance from the CDC often informs the mask orders.
For example, after the CDC guidance, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced that his state would lift mask mandates for vaccinated people before Memorial Day weekend in his state.
Some states do not have mask mandates for anyone, no matter the vaccine status.
Vaccine status is often on an honor system as well, with there being little way to prove whether or not someone has received it yet.
Many businesses and other entities may not even bother to check vaccine status.
Vaccine passports, official documentation of vaccine status a person can use to enter businesses or travel, have been a topic of contention in recent months.
Many states, like Florida, have put an outright ban on vaccine passports.
New York has launched a virtual vaccine passport, the Excelsior Pass, though its use is not mandatory in the state.
The pass is intended to be an option for organizations throwing large events, such as concerts or sporting events.
White House officials have said that there are no plans to create a federal level vaccine passport system.
Lack of an ability for businesses to verify the vaccine status of customers would make it near impossible for them to properly enforce mask mandates on only those who have are not vaccinated.
The United States seems to be beyond its worst days of COVID-19, with case rates dropping across the country.
Much of the recent success can be attributed to the vaccines.
About 60 percent of American adults have received at least one dose of the vaccine, with over a third of the country being fully vaccinated, per CDC data.
Dr. Fauci said earlier this week that future surges of the virus can be prevented once 70 percent of the country receives at least one shot of the vaccine, a target he thinks is attainable by July 4.