Scientists Have Questions About New Mask Guidance

CDC has not released data that led to reversal
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 29, 2021 3:50 PM CDT
Scientists Want to See Data Behind CDC Mask U-Turn
A sign on the door of a hair salon informing patrons that masks are required to be in the business in Kansas City, Mo.   (Jill Toyoshiba/The Kansas City Star via AP, File)

The CDC's U-turn on mask guidance this week has brought a return to mask mandates around the country—but some scientists say they want to see the unpublished data cited in the agency's report. The latest CDC guidance, which states that in areas where the virus is surging, even fully vaccinated people should wear masks indoors, was based on what CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said was new data showing that some vaccinated people infected with the delta variant may still be contagious. Sources tell the Washington Post that the new research was "alarming" and made it urgent to act to prevent a fourth wave. Outside scientists say they want to see more data to back up the claim that with delta, vaccinated and unvaccinated people carry a similar viral load. More:

  • A "concerning" finding. Walensky said Tuesday that the level of virus in the noses and throats of vaccinated people with "breakthrough" infections was found to be "indistinguishable" from that in the unvaccinated, the AP reports. She said the "concerning" finding was made in 100 samples in recent days in several states and one other country. The new guidance applies to areas with more than 50 new cases per 100,000 people in the last week—around 60% of US counties, home to more than 70% of the population.

  • Some officials are hesitant. It's up to state and local governments, not the CDC, to order mask mandates, and some are hesitant, Fox reports. "We're assessing the information. What really is important is to assess the research behind it. Which is what our team is doing," New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday. "We've got to make sure we understand the ramifications and what makes sense to do."
  • Breakthrough infections raise questions. Walensky has described breakthrough infections as rare, but scientists want to see the numbers. "If we’re seeing more breakthroughs, is it just because the virus is better and the vaccines don’t hold up quite as well, or is the efficacy of the vaccines beginning to wane, independent of the delta?” Robert Wachter, chair of the Department of Medicine at the University of California at San Francisco, tells the Post. "This is three-dimensional chess, there’s a hundred things going on at the same time.”
  • "The science didn't change, the virus did." Some experts describe the highly infectious delta variant as "alpha on steroids," and Dr. Anthony Fauci says the changing guidance is a response to the mutating virus. "We're not changing the science," the director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease told CNN Wednesday. "The virus changed, and the science evolved with the changing virus." Fauci and other health experts say vaccination is still vitally important for preventing severe illness and death from COVID.
  • Some wanted agency to go further. Former CDC scientist Ali Mokdad, an epidemiologist at the University of Washington, tells the New York Times that the agency should have made the recommendation universal. "If you look at the country, every state is seeing a rise in transmission,” Mokdad says. "So why not say, 'Everybody in the US should be wearing a mask indoors?’ The whole country is on fire."
  • GOP leaders don't plan to comply. The AP reports that Republican leaders across the country reacted to the new guidance with "hostility and defiance." "We won't go back," declared former President Trump, who rarely wore a mask in the first place. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis mocked the recommendation when he addressed an almost entirely unmasked audience at an indoor event in Salt Lake City Wednesday. "Did you not get the CDC’s memo?” he said. "I don’t see you guys complying."
(More coronavirus stories.)

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