Here’s why the CDC relaxed its mask policy a week after announcing confusing guidance

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Credit: Getty Images
Credit: Getty Images

For months, federal officials have vigorously warned that wearing masks and social distancing were necessary to contain the pandemic. So what changed?

Introducing the new recommendations [that fully vaccinated people do not have to wear masks or socially distance], Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, the C.D.C. director, cited two recent scientific findings as significant factors: Few vaccinated people become infected with the virus, and transmission seems rarer still; and the vaccines appear to be effective against all known variants of the coronavirus.

The difficulty with the new recommendations… is not so much the science underpinning them as their implementation.

Leaders at the state, city and county levels still have the authority to require masks even for vaccinated people, as the C.D.C. was quick to acknowledge [May 13]. After the agency’s announcement, some states instantly lifted mask mandates, while others said they would need more time to weigh the evidence.

But in states without mask mandates, the onus of checking vaccination status will fall on shopkeepers, restaurant workers, school officials and workplace managers.

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“When we make policy, we need to balance the needs and desires of everyone,” Dr. McLaren said. “We could keep masking forever, but there are benefits to getting back to a life that looks more normal.”

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