Dr. Fauci Defends the Importance of Wearing Masks to Sen. Rand Paul: 'Here We Go Again'

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Susan Walsh/AP/Bloomberg via Getty; Anna Moneymaker-Pool/Getty Dr. Anthony Fauci (left) and Sen. Rand Paul

Dr. Anthony Fauci again found himself having to explain — and defend — COVID-19 guidelines to Sen. Rand Paul on Thursday during a Senate hearing on the pandemic.

Paul, a Republican from Kentucky with a medical background in ophthalmology, has repeatedly sparred with the nation's leading infectious disease expert over the past year when it comes to coronavirus guidelines.

"Here we go again," Fauci, 80, said, after Paul, 58, raised more issues at the hearing.

The senator and the health official previously had testy exchanges over COVID-19 in May and September — one about the push to reopen schools and another about whether it was safe to relax restrictions on businesses.

This time, Paul asked Fauci if it was really still necessary for people to be wearing masks after they get vaccinated.

"You want to get rid of vaccine hesitancy? Tell them you can quit wearing your mask after they get the vaccine," Paul said. "You want people to get the vaccine, give them a reward instead of telling them that the nanny state's going to be there for three more years and you got to wear a mask forever. People don't want to hear it."

"You're telling everyone to wear a mask," the senator told Fauci. "If we're not spreading the infection, isn't it just theater?"

Fauci, who appeared annoyed at the senator's suggestion, tried to interrupt while Paul questioned the importance of wearing a mask.

"No, it's not—" Fauci said, before letting Paul finish his question.

"Here we go again with the theater," Fauci then responded, brushing Paul off with the wave of his hand. "Let's get down to the facts."

"Let me just state for the record that masks are not theater," Fauci said. "Masks are protective."

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Susan Walsh/AP/Bloomberg via Getty Dr. Anthony Fauci

ANNA MONEYMAKER/POOL/AFP via Getty Dr. Anthony Fauci

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that, for now, fully vaccinated people still wear masks in public and around unvaccinated people who are at increased risk of severe COVID cases.

The full effectiveness of vaccines at preventing the spread of the virus is still being studied, as is the effectiveness of vaccines against certain variants. (Studies so far show there is protection against at least some variants.)

There are more than 29.6 million confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S. and 539,207 deaths, according to a New York Times tracker.

Fauci explained to Paul on Thursday that he was misunderstanding the medical studies he was citing in his argument.

"Let me finish the response to your question," Fauci told Paul, as the senator tried speak over the health official.

Paul has been arguing in recent weeks that he doesn't need to get vaccinated for COVID-19 because he already contracted the virus last March and recovered.

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However, Fauci pointed to the variants of the virus now circulating in the U.S., which health experts believe can potentially reinfect individuals who already had COVID-19.

"When you talk about reinfection and you don't keep in the concept of variants, that's an entirely different ball game," Fauci said. "That's a good reason for a mask."

Recent studies show people who had COVID-19 may still contract new variants of the virus, Fauci pointed out, "as if they had never been infected before."

Fauci said he "totally" disagreed with Paul's opinion about masks.

Appearing on CBS This Morning on Friday, Fauci elaborated on his position, saying, "Sen. Paul has this message that we don't need masks, which goes against just about everything we know about how to prevent spread of the virus."

"He was saying if you've been infected, or you've been vaccinated, don't wear a mask — which is completely against all public health tenets," Fauci said. "So he's dead wrong. I mean, I don't have anything personally against him. But he's just quite frankly incorrect."

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