The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Sunday defended the latest easing of mask mandates and said her agency is working on new guidance for the school year that will begin in three months in some districts.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, in a series of interviews with Sunday morning news shows, said “evolving science” drove the decision to update the government’s guidance to allow those fully vaccinated for COVID-19 to shed their masks in most circumstances. Walensky denied that the decision was politically driven as Americans grow weary of wearing masks.
“Right now, the data, the science shows us that it’s safe for vaccinated people to take off their masks,” she said on NBC News’ “Meet the Press.” “I, as the CDC director, promised the American people I would convey that science to you as we know it.”
Walensky was asked on “Fox News Sunday” whether changes are coming in guidelines for schools, where masks and social distancing remain policy mainstays.
“Our school guidance to complete this school year will not change, and we will be working on school guidance for the fall,” she said. “We need to update our school guidance, our child care guidance, our camp guidance, our travel guidance. We have a lot of work we need to do.”
Walensky said it was “premature” to declare victory over the pandemic.
“We have to remain humble. We’ve had way too many curveballs,” she said. “I have cautious optimism, but my vigilance hasn’t changed.”
Also in the news:
►Some members of New York’s congressional delegation are upset with the Syracuse Common Council’s decision to spend pandemic relief money on a mural celebrating local basketball legends. Republican Reps. John Katko and Claudia Tenney said the $75,000 should be spent on those in need.
►Thomas Mertens, who heads Germany’s independent vaccine advisory panel, says it’s likely that everyone will have to get another COVID vaccination again next year.
►Yemen’s soccer association said the country’s national team coach died Sunday from COVID-19. Sami al-Naash died in a hospital in the southern port city of Aden.
►The Des Moines school board voted 4-3 not to extend the contract of Superintendent Tom Ahart, criticized for sticking with remote learning after Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds had ordered all schools to provide at least half of instruction in person.
📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has had almost 33 million confirmed coronavirus cases and nearly 586,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: more than 162.6 million cases and almost 3.4 million deaths. More than 344 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and more than 273 million have been administered, according to the CDC. More than 123 million Americans have been fully vaccinated – 37.1% of the population.
📘 What we’re reading: Retailers started announcing changes to face mask policies for fully vaccinated customers a day after the CDC issued new masking guidelines. Here are the stores dropping masks.
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British health chief has ‘increasing confidence’ vaccines are effective against India variant
The currently available vaccines have shown signs in the United Kingdom of being effective against the coronavirus variant first identified in India, believed to be a major contributing factor to the surge in cases in that country.
Infections linked to the variant almost tripled to 1,300 last week in England, and much like the variant first detected in the UK, the Indian one is considered more transmissible. But British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said early lab results indicate the vaccines work against the variant, so the country remains on a path to lift its final COVID restrictions by June 21.
“Because we have increasing confidence that the vaccine works against the variant, the strategy is on track,” Hancock said.
“The undeniable effects of racism” have led to unacceptable health disparities affecting African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans during the pandemic, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Sunday. Fauci, speaking remotely from Washington at graduation ceremonies for Emory University in Atlanta, said the coronavirus crisis has “shone a bright light on our own society’s failings.”
He cited the high percentage of minority groups who work in essential jobs where they might be exposed and said they are more likely to become infected because of medical conditions such as hypertension, chronic lung disease, diabetes, or obesity. Fauci blamed “disadvantageous conditions” related to the availability of an adequate diet and access to health care among other factors.
“Societal divisiveness is counterproductive in a pandemic,” Fauci added. “We must not be at odds with each other since the virus is the enemy, not each other.”
The CDC’s announcement Thursday that fully vaccinated people largely no longer need to wear a mask has left many Americans wondering: If there are no enforcement measures, won’t people just lie about their vaccination status? Public health officials have admitted that the honor system will play a large role in the new rules.
There’s long been talk of a “vaccine passport” model of enforcement in the U.S., where vaccination status grants or limits a person’s ability to travel or enter certain spaces. But such a program is mostly a theory currently, and multiple businesses have announced that they won’t be asking customers to prove their vaccine status if they shop unmasked.
And while businesses and politicians say they trust Americans to be honest, experts on human behavior aren’t so sure. Read more here.
‘Vaccine passports’ are coming, experts say
No shirt, no shoes, no vaccine – no service. That’s the future critics of “vaccine passports” fear as Americans vaccinated against COVID-19 can safely live more normal lives, now including spending time in most indoor settings without a mask. The notion that a “passport” could separate the vaccinated from the unvaccinated has sparked fears of a dystopian future where a person’s health decisions would limit where they could travel, where they could shop, what events they could attend and whether they would be asked to wear a mask.
But many public health experts are exasperated by the controversy, given that Americans have long been expected to provide proof of vaccination in some circumstances.
“It’s not a new idea that you would document whether or not you’ve been vaccinated and share that information at certain points,” said Rebecca Fielding-Miller, a professor at the Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health at the University of California-San Diego. “This is something we already do.” Read more here.
Contributing: The Associated Press