Speed Reads

Mask politics

CDC's Walensky told House panel there's no timeline for relaxing school masking guidance

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), said Wednesday that her agency is working on COVID-19 guidance that is "relevant" and based not just on case numbers but also hospital capacity, community transmission rates, and other metrics.

Everyone is eager to "get to a point where COVID-19 is no longer disrupting our daily lives," and "we want to give people a break from things like mask wearing when these metrics are better and then have the ability to reach for them again," Walenksy said. "If and when we update our guidance, we will communicate that clearly and it will be based on the data and the science."

At a House subcommittee hearing Tuesday, Republicans had pressed Walensky on the CDC's guidance that children wear masks in schools, and she acknowledged "limitations" to the science on school masking, according to audio of the virtual hearing shared with Reason. But the research "uniformly" shows "that when there's a lot of disease out there, the masks are preventing that disease and preventing that transmission, and because of that we are able to keep our schools open," she added.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) argued that the U.S. is "an outlier as it relates to the mask mandate for our children to go to school," and asked Walensky to "commit to update your guidance by Friday to allow children in person without the burden of masks," Reason reports. Walensky declined. 

When Rep. Gary Palmer (R–Ala.) asked Walensky to justify the school masking guidance, Reason reports, she noted that "guidance is just guidance," decisions "have to be made at the local level," and "as cases come down dramatically, we have deferred our guidance to the local jurisdictions." Palmer called that answer "not acceptable." Rep. Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) said local jurisdictions lifting mask requirements while the CDC advises them on a national level "puts a dent in CDC credibility."

Indeed, "government and business leaders have been out ahead of the CDC in ending virus measures in the last week, including ordering workers back to offices, eliminating mask mandates, and no longer requiring proof of vaccine," The Associated Press reports.

COVID-19 infections have dropped to their lowest levels since September, and coronavirus-related hospitalizations have dropped 30 percent in the past two weeks, to about 85,000 on Tuesday, The New York Times reports. "Deaths, though, remain high at about 2,300 a day."