Sen. Susan Collins grills CDC Director Rochelle Walensky over covid transmission guidelines

Sen. Susan Collins grills CDC Director Rochelle Walensky over covid transmission guidelines

Sen. Susan Collins grills CDC Director Rochelle Walensky over covid transmission guidelines

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), on Wednesday defended the agency's mask guidance amid growing frustration over its cautious approach.

The new guidance will still call for wearing masks in crowded indoor settings like buses, planes, hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters, but could ease restrictions for reopening workplaces and schools.

The CDC will also no longer recommend that fully vaccinated people wear masks outdoors in crowds.

The guidance means that millions of fully vaccinated Americans can begin returning to pre-pandemic activities, including in-person school and work, which many have eschewed since last March.

The new guidance comes as the aggressive USA vaccination campaign begins to pay off. US virus cases are at their lowest rate since September, deaths are at their lowest point since last April and the test positivity rate is at the lowest point since the pandemic began.

It's an about-face from guidance issued just 16 days earlier in which the CDC suggested masks should still be used indoors or in crowds even if people are fully immunized, which the CDC defines as two weeks after the final shot.

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Sen. Susan Collins grills CDC Director Rochelle Walensky over covid transmission guidelines
Sen. Susan Collins grills CDC Director Rochelle Walensky over covid transmission guidelines

Walensky said at an April 27 briefing at the White House that "less than 10 percent of documented transmission, in many studies, have occurred outdoors", a statement that could be seen as both true and misleading. "And that's the reason why you want to get them as much information as you possibly can".

At one point, Maine Gov. Janet Mills joked about people in her state responded to the CDC's initially recommended 6-foot social distancing guidance. "The science really says one percent", he said, adding that critics contend the CDC is "very slow to go there" and that the agency is "playing it too safe".

The easing guidance could open the door to confusion, as there is no surefire way for businesses or others to distinguish between those fully vaccinated and those who are not.

Walensky said the evidence from the USA and Israel shows the vaccines are as strongly protective in real-world use as they were in earlier studies, and that so far they continue to work even though some worrying mutated versions of the virus are spreading.

"We need to follow the science, which is emerging every single day, with regard to variants, with regards to transmissibility, with regard to protection, and then we need to follow our case rates" and see how many people are getting vaccinated, she said.

CDC data demonstrates that children in grades K-12 are at low risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19. According to the KFF COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor, a research project that tracks public opinions on the vaccines, 23% of parents with children ages 12-15 say the definitely will not have their kids vaccinated, while 30% say they will get their kids vaccinated right away.

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