Great Britain

Fauci says new mask guidance ‘not a mandate to take masks off’

The top infectious diseases expert in the US, Anthony Fauci, has said the new federal guidance on mask-wearing is “not a mandate to take your mask off”, amid continuing confusion about last week’s mask announcement.

In an interview with the Pod Save America podcast, Fauci said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lifted mask restrictions for fully vaccinated people last week to assure vaccinated people about the effectiveness of vaccines.

The CDC guidance issued last Thursday said fully vaccinated people did not need to wear a mask indoors or outdoors with the exception of healthcare settings, homeless shelters, prison and jails and on public transportation.

The agency’s announcement prompted major retailers to lift mask mandates, except in regions where mask requirements are still in place, and local governments to change mask-wearing rules.

California governor Gavin Newsom said the state would keep its mask order in place for another month. New York governor Andrew Cuomo said the state would lift mask requirements on Wednesday in public places except public transportation, schools and a few other settings.

“Unvaccinated people should continue to wear a mask,” said Cuomo.

About 123 million Americans – 37% of the population – are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC. People are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after they receive a second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Vaccinations are less effective for some populations including cancer patients, organ transplant recipients and other immunocompromised people. Children under 12 do not have access to the vaccine.

Public health experts and others have raised concerns about the guidance, including that it could raise stigma for people who aren’t ready to stop wearing masks and did not include a plan on how to improve access to vaccines.

There are also broad concerns about how people can trust whether people who aren’t wearing masks are actually fully vaccinated, especially in indoor places such as grocery stores and restaurants.

“It is not a mandate to take your mask off,” Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), told the podcast.

He also said he understood concerns and was sympathetic to store owners or workers concerned about others’ behavior.

“I would favor them being able to make their own choice depending on how they feel about things,” he said.

The White House adviser said he was confident in the CDC guidance because the Covid-19 vaccines available in the US are highly effective, work well against variants and are showing in studies that if a vaccinated person does contract the virus, it is unlikely they will pass it on to someone else.

Fauci said he was not aware of any “bad” cases of breakthrough infections, but said it was impossible to rule out that it has, or would, happen.

“Sooner or later somebody is going to get a breakthrough infection, get seriously ill and probably die,” Fauci said. “That has probably already happened. But remember, when the denominator is tens of millions of people, you are going to see virtually one or more of anything.”

Fauci said that he had started to not wear a mask indoors when he was with fully vaccinated people.

“When I am in a situation where people would be uncomfortable with people without masks, I wear a mask,” he said.

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