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coronavirus crisis

Health experts are at odds about the CDC's 'shockingly abrupt' mask guidance

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's updated mask guidance marked a major milestone in the pandemic. But has the agency "skipped a key step"?

The CDC announced Thursday that those who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 mostly no longer need to wear masks or socially distance. Dr. Leana Wen, a physician and CNN medical analyst, is among the experts who had been critical of the CDC's previous guidelines as overly cautious, but she writes in The Washington Post that with the announcement, the CDC "skipped a key step" and has gone "from over-caution to throwing caution to the wind."

Wen particularly criticizes the CDC guidance for not requiring proof of vaccination.

"By resorting to the honor code, the CDC is removing a critical incentive to vaccination," Wen writes. "Many who were on the fence might have been motivated to get the shot because they could go back to activities they were missing, without a mask. Now, if no one is checking, and they can do everything anyway, why bother?"

All in all, Wen described the CDC's "about-face" as "shockingly abrupt," and The New York Times noted that it "came as a surprise to many people in public health," as in a recent informal survey of epidemiologists, a whopping 80 percent said they expected Americans would need to wear masks indoors for another year.

"Unless the vaccination rates increase to 80 or 90 percent over the next few months, we should wear masks in large public indoor settings," Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute program officer Vivian Towe told the Times.

But the CDC's move has drawn praise from other experts, who argued it's in line with the science and overdue. Former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb also believes it should actually "provide a pretty strong incentive" for people "on the fence" about getting vaccinated, adding that those who would lie about being vaccinated and stop wearing a mask "would have done it anyway."