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Health Care

The Most Powerful Voice Within the CDC Assesses the New Mask Mandate

CDC director Rochelle Walensky on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., May 11, 2021 (Greg Nash/Reuters)

Maybe these new CDC guidelines calling for mask-wearing again will be revised or clarified soon. This morning, CDC Director David Leonhardt wrote that the announcement of the new guidelines was “both vague and technical, making it hard for many nonexperts to understand. The agency did not make clear which parts of the country were affected or how that might change in coming days.”

Pardon me, that’s New York Times columnist David Leonhardt, but because Leonhardt’s columns often precede changes in CDC policy, his assessments seem to be the first draft of what the agency will soon declare. Back in April, Leonhardt published a column asking “Are Masks Necessary Outdoors?” and a few days later, the White House announced that new guidance on mask-wearing outdoors was coming soon from the CDC. Then in May, Leonhardt challenged the CDC’s statement that up to 10 percent of all COVID transmissions happen outdoors. Two days later, the CDC revised and loosened their guidelines for summer camps.

The pattern is pretty clear. When the rest of us express doubt or skepticism about a CDC recommendation, we’re just a bunch of knuckle-dragging, anti-“SCIENCE” morons with a death wish, but when David Leonhardt expresses the same doubts or skepticism about a CDC recommendation, folks at the highest level of the federal agency start wondering if they should take a second look.

As is, not-quite-director Leonhardt isn’t convinced that mask mandates will make much difference, concluding, “masks may make at least a small difference almost everywhere. But more frequent masking in heavily vaccinated communities will almost certainly not make a major difference.” And he alludes to the point that Americans’ willingness to go along with suddenly-changing guidance is likely to be lower in late summer 2021 than it was in March 2020.


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