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New CDC guidance on masks relies on trust as businesses navigate new normal

Dr. Rochelle Walensky
Posted at 5:52 AM, May 17, 2021

Last weekend marked a return to some normalcy in the U.S.

Across the country, many returned to bars and restaurants for the first time in months, days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) eased mask-wearing guidance for fully-vaccinated people.

But the new guidance also opened the door to confusion, since there is no surefire way for businesses to tell who has been vaccinated and who has not.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky was pressed on that on Sunday.

"We are asking people to be honest with themselves," Walensky said. "If they are vaccinated and they are not wearing a mask, they are safe. If they are not vaccinated and they're not wearing a mask, they are not safe.”

Walensky fielded questions Sunday on several cable and network talk shows. Many hosts asked how essential workers should feel that mask mandates have been rolled back despite the fact that many Americans are still hesitant to get vaccinated.

"We are asking people to take their health into their own hands, to get vaccinated, and if they don't then they continue to be at risk," Walensky said. "For the unvaccinated, our policy has not changed.”

Local and state governments can issue their own rules, but the CDC mask guidance says fully vaccinated people largely do not need to wear masks indoors or out.

Some health experts are expecting most Americans — vaccinated or not — will be tossing aside their masks. That puts unvaccinated people at risk of contracting COVID-19.

It’s a cheating of the system that many are expecting, including Alex Bodell, a visitor to New Orleans.

"I think it's going to be largely just self-compliance, and if people want to be dishonest about the situation, that's unfortunately their prerogative," Bodell said. "... and then if people want to be dishonest about the situation, it's not good, but I don't know if we can actually enforce rules to really do anything about that."

Dr. Anthony Fauci is hoping the CDC guidance leads to more vaccinations.

"When you get vaccinated you not only protect your own health and that of the family but you contribute to the community health by preventing the spread of the virus throughout the community," Fauci said.