WASHINGTON — A week after telling vaccinated Americans they could take their masks off, public health officials are reminding them that there’s nothing wrong with continuing to mask up.
“If you are vaccinated, there is no shame, no problem in continuing to wear your mask,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said at a Friday briefing of the White House pandemic response team.
Last week’s revised guidance caught ordinary Americans, elected leaders and public health officials by surprise. Even the White House was notified of the new rules only several hours before Walensky made them public.
Since then, private businesses and public institutions alike have grappled with how to incorporate the new guidance. That has led to mask-related clashes of the kind seen in the early days of the pandemic, as well as backlash against people who say they will continue to wear masks despite having gotten the coronavirus vaccine.
Walensky tried to head off some of that backlash with her comments on Friday, which focused less on the need to wear masks — there is no such need once a person is vaccinated — than on the psychological comfort of doing so.
“Just like it has been hard to have everybody get masked, I think this is going to take some time for us all to get used to,” Walensky said.
Even before the revision, President Biden had been criticized for wearing his mask outdoors, which previous CDC guidance said he did not have to do, having been vaccinated months ago. The masks are now coming off in official Washington, where Republican legislators have chafed against them from the start.
But in other parts of Washington and other major metropolitan areas, residents are continuing to wear masks outdoors, where the spread of the coronavirus is negligible, and vaccination rates are high.
People are keeping their masks on because they fear new coronavirus variants or the possibility, however remote, of a breakthrough infection.
“Fears like that are not irrational,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, a top science adviser to the president, said at Friday’s briefing.
“You can understand that when people have been following a certain trend for a considerable period of time that it may take time for them to adjust,” Fauci said. “So I would not say that that’s irrational. I’d say that’s understandable.”
As Walensky put it, “It’s going to be hard to get back to life as we knew it without these masks.” Hectoring people in taking their masks off, she seemed to suggest, is bound to be as counterproductive as hectoring them to put masks on in the first place.
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