Health Officials Seek to Clarify Covid-19 Mask Guidelines

U.S. public-health officials tried to address confusion about new masking guidelines released last week, reiterating that vaccinated individuals are at low risk of catching or spreading Covid-19 but leaving the future of mask mandates up to local jurisdictions and private businesses.

“This is not permission for widespread removal of masks,” said Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director

Rochelle Walensky

on Sunday on ABC. “We were going to get to the point in the pandemic where the vaccinated could take off their masks.”

Dr. Walensky’s comments on Sunday were consistent with the CDC’s updated guidance issued last week, though she emphasized that those recommendations are geared only toward people who are fully vaccinated. Those who aren’t vaccinated should continue to wear their masks and get vaccinated, she said.

The CDC said on Thursday that vaccinated individuals don’t need to wear masks outdoors or indoors except in specific circumstances, such as while riding public transportation or visiting hospitals. The guidance caught many businesses and local governments off-guard, and policy makers and companies have so far taken disparate approaches to applying the new guidance.

Until Thursday, 26 states and the District of Columbia had statewide mask mandates still in place, according to research from the Kaiser Family Foundation. Many states quickly adopted the CDC’s guidance, but others said they were still reviewing the guidance. Public-health officials have broadly advocated for the use of face masks during the pandemic, saying that they were a critical and easily accessible tool to stop or slow the transmission of Covid-19.

‘This is not permission for widespread removal of masks,’ said CDC Director Rochelle Walensky on Sunday.



Photo:

Greg Nash – Pool Via Cnp/Zuma Press

Public-health specialists say that the updated CDC guidance largely follows the increasing scientific evidence on the effectiveness of the available vaccines and the current state of the pandemic in the country. Yet the recommendations will be challenging to enforce in public settings, they say, and whether someone wears a mask will likely come down to individual compliance and local rules.

The CDC recommendations say that fully inoculated people should wear masks when required by local jurisdictions, businesses and workplaces.

There also are some caveats in the guidelines. On Saturday, the CDC clarified on its website that K-12 schools should continue with the current prevention strategies, including universal masking, at least for the rest of the school year.

Major retailers are assessing how to apply the new guidelines, but two of the largest,

Walmart Inc.

and

Costco Wholesale Corp.

, said they wouldn’t make vaccinated customers or employees wear masks in jurisdictions that don’t require them. Executives across the economy said they were still wrestling with how to respond to the new guidelines, which they note conflict in many cases with state and local rules and other protocols specific to certain industries.

Advocates for essential workers criticized the guidance as overly vague and said it would fall to employees at places like grocery stores to enforce it. “Millions of Americans are doing the right thing and getting vaccinated, but essential workers are still forced to play ‘mask police’ for shoppers who are unvaccinated and refuse to follow local Covid safety measures,” said United Food and Commercial Workers International President

Marc Perrone.

“Are they now supposed to become the vaccination police?”

Health officials said they were emboldened by research showing that vaccinated people are extremely unlikely to transmit the virus to others, even if they have asymptomatic or mild infections. They have also been encouraged by data showing that the three vaccines in use in the U.S. are effective against variants circulating in the country.

“We’re seeing that it is very unlikely that a vaccinated person, even if there’s a breakthrough infection, would transmit it to someone else,”

Dr. Anthony Fauci,

President

Biden’s

chief medical adviser, said on CBS on Sunday.

People who are fully vaccinated don’t need to wear a mask or physically distance for most outdoor or indoor activities, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Thursday, but some exceptions remain, including the requirements for public transportation. Photo: Justin Lane/Shutterstock

Write to Gabriel T. Rubin at gabriel.rubin@wsj.com and Brianna Abbott at brianna.abbott@wsj.com

Copyright ©2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

Source: WSJ – US News

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