It’s official: Public health experts have way more faith in the American people than I do. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention actually built new guidelines released on Thursday that lean heavily on a kind of honor system in which people who haven’t been vaccinated for COVID-19 should continue wearing masks both inside and outside. Those who are fully vaccinated can enjoy a new mask-free reality without requirements to socially distance, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention maintains.
Problem is, that whole trust issue I laid out actually stems from repeated instances of anti-maskers putting their own wants above public health needs. And now, according to the latest advice from experts, I’m supposed to attach my children’s health to the hope that an American people with an incredibly shoddy track record on pretty much all fronts do the right thing. Yeah, not gonna happen. It’s worth noting, however, that I’m privileged enough to simply not have to take my children to the grocery store, but what about those who aren’t?
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told CNN’s Dana Bash on Sunday’s “State of the Union” that children who have not been vaccinated—and no child under 12-years-old can be—should continue to wear masks in public and socially distance. She said the hope is that “by the end of this year” vaccines will be available to children in younger age ranges. “We recognize the challenge of parents who can’t leave their kids at home,” Walensky said. “(They) should be masked in those settings and to the best of their ability to keep a distance. The recommendations for those settings have not changed.”
Neither has guidance for schools through the end of the current academic year, but that may not be the case for summer camps, Walensky said. “So yes, we do have to rapidly update our camp guidance and we’re working on that right now,” she said.
When asked if she trusts if people who aren’t vaccinated will keep their masks on, Walensky said: “You know, I think that people who were not inclined to wear a mask were not inclined to wear a mask before Thursday.”
Bash responded: “But some of them were mandated to do so, and those mandates are lifting in part because of your new guidelines.”
Walensky said: ”Yes and what we’re really asking in those settings is to say, in terms of the honor system, people have to be honest with themselves. You’re protected if you’re vaccinated. You’re not if you’re not vaccinated.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden, told CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday that real world effectiveness of the vaccines is even better than in clinical trials at well over 90% protection against the coronavirus. “Number two, a number of papers have come out in the past couple of weeks showing that the vaccine protects even against the variants that are circulating,” Fauci said. “And thirdly, 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.”
Read more from Fauci’s interview transcribed by CBS News:
JOHN DICKERSON: So, on that third point, let me ask you this. If I have no symptoms and I have been vaccinated, but I- but I am infected, what’s the difference between that? And if I have no symptoms and I’m infected but have not been vaccinated?
DR. FAUCI: Good question, JOHN. And what the- what the issue is, is that the level of virus in your nasal pharynx, which is correlated with whether or not you were going to transmit it to someone else, is considerably lower. So even though there are breakthrough infections with vaccinated people, almost always the people are asymptomatic, and the level of virus is so low, it makes it extremely unlikely, not impossible, but very, very low likelihood that they are going to transmit it. Whereas when people who are getting infected, who were without symptoms, who are not vaccinated, generally the titer or the level of virus, relatively speaking, is higher than in the vaccinated individuals.
JOHN DICKERSON: A lot of people have heard about the Yankees; eight members of the club have tested positive. But it seems to bear out what you’re saying, which is most of them have no symptoms. And you’re- what you seem to be saying is they have no symptoms, and we don’t need to worry about them spreading because they’ve all been vaccinated.
DR. FAUCI: Well, yeah. I mean, it’s not going to be absolute zero, but the likelihood, JOHN, of this spreading is really very, very low. And that’s one of the reasons why they’re even talking about if you are vaccinated, that you’re going to cut down on the testing of individuals, because even if they test positive, the likelihood of their transmitting to someone else is really very, very low.
JOHN DICKERSON: So, if- if a person is deciding whether or not to get vaccinated, they have to keep in mind whether it’s going to keep them healthy. But based on these new findings, it would suggest they also have an opportunity, if vaccinated, to knock off or block their ability to transmit it to other people. So, does it increase the public health good of getting the vaccination or make that clearer based on these new findings?
DR. FAUCI: And you know, JOHN, you said it very well. I could have said it better. It’s absolutely the case. And that’s the reason why we say when you get vaccinated, you not only protect your own health, that of the family, but also you contribute to the community health by preventing the spread of the virus throughout the community. And in other words, you become a dead end to the virus. And when there are a lot of dead ends around, the virus is not going to go anywhere. And that’s when you get a point that you have a markedly diminished rate of infection in the community. And that’s exactly the reason, and you said it very well, of why we encourage people and want people to get vaccinated. The more people you get vaccinated, the safer the entire community is.
Not everyone in the medical community is thrilled about the new guidance.
Dr. Tara Smith, an infectious disease epidemiologist, tweeted in a thread on Sunday that she’s “frustrated” about the guidance and the messaging used to defend it. “‘Anyone who wanted a vaccine had plenty of time to get it.’ This is patently false,” she said. “One, the vaccine just became available for the 12-15 year age group. Why not wait another month until many in this group were able to get both shots and develop protection?”
She added: “Two, even those in the 16+ age group who got the vaccines as soon as they were eligible are wrapping up their 2nd dose in some states, because eligibility for them just opened at some point in April. Even if they jumped in on first day eligible, some are not yet fully immune.”
Smith concluded: “I 100% agree that the science shows that vaccinated individuals are very safe. But many still *want* to be vaccinated & can’t be or haven’t been yet for many reasons. They’re now at risk. It’s an own goal to not have worked in this area first before changing the guidelines.”
National Nurses United, the country’s largest nurses union, released a statement on Friday condemning the new guidance. “This newest CDC guidance is not based on science, does not protect public health, and threatens the lives of patients, nurses, and other frontline workers across the country,” National Nurses United Executive Director Bonnie Castillo said. “Now is not the time to relax protective measures, and we are outraged that the CDC has done just that while we are still in the midst of the deadliest pandemic in a century.”
COVID-19 related deaths are still being reported, with 780 people having died from the virus the day the new guidelines were released, the union said. “If the CDC had fully recognized the science on how this deadly virus is transmitted, this new guidance would never have been issued,” Jean Ross, president of the union said.