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CDC Eases Mask Restrictions For Fully Vaccinated Americans. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired May 13, 2021 - 14:00   ET



DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: So, when they got those test results back, it was surprising, right, because they have been vaccinated. They got the test results back. But the big question, and I think what the science is showing is, despite the fact that they came back with a positive test, they're still unlikely to transmit that virus to somebody else. They're unlikely to be silent or asymptomatic carriers to someone else.

And I think that's the big -- the big headline that's coming out of the most recent science -- scientific studies that we're seeing.

ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: OK. I know you will be watching along with us as the CDC makes their announcement here any moment.

Thank you, Sanjay.

And thank you all for joining me today. It's time for me to hand off to Victor and Alisyn, as the news continues. Have a great evening.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: And welcome to NEWSROOM, everyone. I'm Alisyn Camerota, along with Victor Blackwell.

And we do begin this hour with breaking news. Any moment, the CDC is expected to ease guidance on indoor mask-wearing and social distancing for fully vaccinated people.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Yes, we're going to take that announcement from the CDC director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, live as soon as that begins.

But let's start with Phil Mattingly, senior White House correspondent, there at the White House.

Phil, what do we know about this announcement and the timing of it?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, so what we know right now is, obviously, earlier in the week, we reported that the CDC didn't have any imminent guidance coming.

And that was in large part because President Biden, in speaking to governors in a public event, made clear that there was the potential for new guidance as it pertained to those individuals that had been vaccinated.

The CDC now appears to be on the verge of reversing itself, at least to some degree. The expectation is an announcement that those that have been vaccinated, fully vaccinated, if you are getting the two shots, through both shots, and the two-week period afterwards to achieve full immunization, should in many cases not have to wear a mask both outdoors and indoors.

We will wait for the specifics as to how they actually lay this out, what caveats there actually are.

But I think this underscores what has been kind of a clear, I think you would almost say pressure mounting over the course of the last several days, even before then, not just from lawmakers on Capitol Hill, though that was certainly the case when the president's public health officials were testifying earlier this week, but also from public health officials, making very clear that there should be new guidance as it pertains to the vaccinated.

Something that not only they believe is justified by the science, but is also justified by an effort to incentivize people to get vaccinated, make clear there are carrots at the end of the vaccination process, not just sticks, and one of those primary carrots being that you no longer would have to wear a mask, not just outside when you're not in a large group of people, but also inside as well.

Again, the devil is in the details a little bit here. It'll be interesting to see how specifically CDC officials lay out what the new guidance will entail. But it is very clear that they have been feeling the pressure not just, again, from Capitol Hill, but also from other public health officials, that more needs to be done to incentivize people to get vaccinated, more needs to be done to underscore the fact that, based on all of the science, all of the data that public health officials are seeing, there is a need to relax some of those guidelines that have been in place for so long, guys.

And I would note one other final thing. The president has also announced previously unscheduled remarks. They will be at 3:45 p.m. We don't know specifically if they pertain to this. But you can draw some conclusions by the fact that president will be speaking about the COVID-19 response and vaccinations, according to the White House, so not exactly entirely clear what he's going to say.

But, generally, you can connect the dots a little bit here.

CAMEROTA: OK, good to know, since that's on our watch, so thank you for tipping us off to that.

But this would be a game-changer, Phil. I mean, we don't know exactly what the CDC and Dr. Rochelle Walensky is going to say. But if it were changing the guidelines on mask-wearing indoors and outdoors, it would be a game-changer.

And it also -- I mean, just what you have just said, it's interesting to hear that the CDC does respond to pressure, for lack of a better word, from governors and from various health experts that it was time to do that.

Also, let me -- Phil, hold that thought for a second.

Let's bring in Elizabeth Cohen. She, of course, has been following all the developments on COVID for us.

So, Elizabeth, like I was saying to Phil, this would be a game- changer. What do we know?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Oh, absolutely. This is a game-changer.

What we know is that Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the head of the CDC, told Chris Cuomo last night that we think we're going to be changing our mask guidance very soon. We don't know exactly what very soon means, but a lot of pressure on the CDC, saying to them, look, we know that you can't completely have every last little bit of science that you need to change masking guidance, but there is science out there that shows how very effective these vaccines are at protecting people.

And -- and this is important, Alisyn -- and when people do get infected after getting vaccinated, which happens rarely, but it does happen, those people, according to studies, tend to have lower virus loads. When you go into their noses, there's not as much virus there, which suggests that they're not as infectious as other people.


So, there is a lot of reason here to expect that, when they do change this guidance, that it will be more lenient, giving vaccinated people more leeway to take off their masks.

BLACKWELL: So, Elizabeth, it's been just about two weeks since that chart with the masked faces on one side and the unmasked faces on the other was released from the CDC confused some people.

Is their new science to support what we're going to hear potentially today from what we knew two weeks ago, or is this primarily based on the criticism that we heard from even Dr. Fauci saying that it was a bit too strict?

COHEN: You know, Victor, I think more the latter.

The science that says these vaccines work really well, not just to protect the individual, but to sort of cut down on their chance of being infectious if they do get COVID, that's been around now for weeks, certainly before that mask guidance came out. I mean, maybe a little bit more has come out.

But this science has been out there for a while. The CDC has come under a lot of criticism and even ridicule for putting out that graphic that was so very difficult and confusing. You looked at it, you weren't quite sure what you were supposed to get out of it. And it didn't sort of, in stark relief, say, hey, vaccinated people, you can do a whole lot more now without your masks than you could before.

So I think this is much more about the pressure on the CDC to sort of move it and kind of go with what Dr. Fauci and others have been thinking and not be so worried that they don't have every single last bit of data that one would like to have, because, frankly, that data takes months often to get.

CAMEROTA: OK, guys, stay with us.

Let's bring in our CNN medical analysts Dr. Jorge Rodriguez and Dr. Leana Wen.

Dr. Wen, you have been pushing for something along what we think might be coming out of this CDC. What are your thoughts?

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: I cannot wait for the CDC announcement.

Overcaution has a price. And that price is that people have stopped paying attention to the CDC guidance, that the CDC is becoming increasingly irrelevant if what they're saying just seems separate from common sense. And common sense says that, if you have a vaccine that's really effective, that protects you from getting infected, from spreading it to others, then you should be able to do a whole lot more than the CDC currently says that you can do.

So, I really hope the CDC will come out and say, first of all, outdoors safe for everyone, second, that fully vaccinated people can be around one another, including in large groups, in office settings, whatever settings, without restriction.

And, third, I hope the CDC also comes out with some kind of guidance on when additional restrictions like indoor mask mandates can be lifted. Ideally, that's tied to some level of vaccination in that community.

BLACKWELL: Dr. Rodriguez, what are you looking to hear from Dr. Walensky when she speaks in just a moment?

DR. JORGE RODRIGUEZ, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Well, I'm looking for some clarity and for simplicity, to be quite honest, because I think there's so many messages coming out at different times, that, like Dr. Wen so eloquently stated, people stop listening, because they really don't know what to believe.

This is what usually happens behind the scenes in science. Information is gathered. And then, when there is a definite conclusion, you put forth a statement, or it becomes dogma. The American public is seeing how the scientific sausage is being made, and that's confusing.

So, I do believe that it is time to sort of lessen some of these guidances. But, again, people need to feel comfortable with what they're doing. And I hope that there will be simple guidance coming out in the next few minutes.

CAMEROTA: Dr. Wen, if this is what we think it is. And if there's a loosening of the guidance for certainly outdoor mask-wearing, this is going to require the honor system. This is going to require people who are doubly vaccinated to take off their masks and people who are not yet vaccinated to keep on their masks.

And, look, let's just be honest. Sometimes, not everybody does have the best interests of their neighbor at heart. So how are we going to navigate that?

WEN: Yes, I am very concerned about that.

And this is why I hope the CDC actually comes out and says fully vaccinated people who are around others who have proof of vaccination -- for example, I'm thinking of the office setting. A lot of employees are being asked to return to work.

But if people are allowed to not wear masks or distance, then I think people would also feel more comfortable if everybody there has some kind of proof that they have all been vaccinated. I think, otherwise, we are potentially putting people at risk, including people who are immunocompromised, or individuals who cannot yet be vaccinated or have family members who cannot yet be vaccinated like little kids.

And so I hope that the CDC will give some kind of in-between step and say, you can do whatever you want if you're fully vaccinated. However, if you're going to be in settings, in public settings with other people, there should still be some way of ensuring safety for everyone.


BLACKWELL: You know, we have seen the growing spate of states that have governors who have signed executive orders banning vaccine passports.

So I'd like to know, once we hear from the CDC, how that potentially plays into this role of proving who is vaccinated and should be without a mask in some of these settings.

But we know that the president, Phil, and the vice president, they have been vaccinated. We know that their spouses have has as well. And they have been criticized, especially the president, for wearing a mask outdoors, sometimes in settings where even the CDC says that fully vaccinated people do not have to wear them.

MATTINGLY: Yes, look, it's been a question I think a lot of us have had over the course of the last couple of weeks.

Yesterday, the president meeting with lawmakers in the Oval Office, and everybody was wearing N95 masks, same, I believe, today, based on -- I wasn't in the Oval Office, but based on what I saw from the feed from our colleagues in the pool who were in there, they did it again.

Now, there's White House regulations right now inside the building that you still have to wear a mask. It'll be interesting to see if those transition. But I think one of the questions that we have heard from outside experts is, the president has taken great pride in modeling the proper behavior.


Hold that thought, if you would, Phil, hold the thought. The CDC briefing is beginning. Let's listen.


ANDY SLAVITT, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE ADVISER FOR COVID RESPONSE: ... to Dr. Walensky by reiterating some of the words the president said yesterday.

On July 4, let's celebrate our independence as a nation and our independence of the virus. Seventy percent of adults with at least one shot by July 4 is a critical goal. When you're winning, you press harder. We can do this.

But if you haven't gotten vaccinated yet, now's the time.

And with that, over to Dr. Walensky for an important update and what our progress means for Americans.


Good afternoon. I'm pleased to be back with you today.

Let's begin with an overview of the data. Yesterday, CDC reported more than 34,200 new cases of COVID-19. Our seven-day average is about 36,800 cases per day. This represents yet another decrease from -- of about 23 percent from our prior seven-day average.

And every day with daily cases continuing to fall, we remain encouraged by these positive trends. The seven-day average of hospital admissions is 4,100, again, another terrific sign with another back- to-back decrease of 12 percent from the previous seven-day period.

And seven-day average daily deaths have also declined to 587 per day.

Today, I have several exciting announcements to share with you.

First, since becoming CDC director, I have seen firsthand the current frail state of the public health infrastructure in the country. I'm committed to upgrading the public health system, so the nation is ready for whatever comes next.

With this in mind, today, we are announcing the upcoming release of $7.4 billion in funding from the American Rescue Plan to hire, train and support public health workers across the country, reflective of the diversity within the communities they serve.

Over half of the money being released, $4.4 billion, will support states and localities, creating tens of thousands of new jobs in communities across America, expanding our overstretched public health departments with new hires to support their COVID-19 efforts.

And $3 billion will be focused on preparing these same jurisdictions for future pandemics and to build a public health work force for the future. Though many threats have increased in complexity and scale in recent years, our nation's public health work force has gotten smaller.

This support will immediately add more staff in health departments across the country. It will add school nurses to K-12 schools to support safe reopening and operations and support vaccinations as vaccines are authorized for younger people.

It will expand the number of CDC Epidemic Intelligence Service officers, our elite disease detectives, to respond to local outbreaks and help curb the pandemic. It will expand public health career paths, recruit and train a diverse group of future public health leaders, and launch a public health AmeriCorps to recruit a strong, diverse and highly skilled work force that is ready to respond.

And it will create new programs intended to increase staffing at our nation's laboratories and build preparedness for the future. We are really excited about what this will -- this support will mean for our nation's public health capability now and into the future.

Second, last night, I endorsed the recommendations of CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, making the Pfizer vaccine available to anyone who was 12 years and older. I want to thank the ACIP for reviewing the science and providing their recommendations on the safety and efficacy of the vaccines in adolescents.


This is an important step forward in our efforts to vaccinate as many people as possible and to stop the pandemic.

And, finally, I want to provide you an update regarding CDC's guidance for fully vaccinated people. Over the course of the pandemic, we are continuously gathering data and evidence to inform our guidance and decision-making.

We now have numerous reports in the literature that demonstrate the safety and real-world effectiveness of the authorized vaccines. On this slide, there are three recently published studies, one from Israel published in "The Journal of the American Medical Association," or "JAMA," on the top, and two from the United States, both published in CDC's "Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report," which all show that COVID-19 vaccines work.

In Israel, there was a demonstrated 97 percent vaccine effectiveness against symptomatic and 86 percent effectiveness against asymptomatic infection in over 5,000 health care workers. In the United States, vaccines were 90 percent effective against any infection in nearly 4,000 health care workers, and 94 percent effective against hospitalizations from COVID-19 in an evaluation across 24 hospitals in 14 states. Additionally, we are accumulating data that our authorized vaccines

are effective against the variants that are circulating in this country. On this slide, you can see a study published just last week that demonstrates how effective the Pfizer vaccine is against the common circulating variants in the United States, B117, as well as other variants like B1351.

Additional studies confirm that the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are also effective against circulating variants.

Finally, we know that, in the rare event that people get infected after a vaccine, the resulting infection is more likely to have a lower viral load, be shorter in duration, and likely less risky of transmission to others.

Considering all of these factors, the data on vaccine effectiveness, the science on their ability to protect against circulating variants, and our growing understanding of the low risk of transmission to others, combined with universal access to vaccines for those 12 and older, today, CDC is updating our guidance for fully vaccinated people.

Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities, large or small, without wearing a mask or physical distancing. If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic.

We have all longed for this moment, when we can get back to some sense of normalcy. Based on the continuing downward trajectory of cases, the scientific data on the performance of our vaccines, and our understanding of how the virus spreads, that moment has come for those who are fully vaccinated.

Now, if you are immune-compromised, you will most definitely want to talk to your doctor before giving up your mask. Also, locations such as health care facilities will continue to follow their specific infection control recommendations.

And, lastly, this past year has shown us that this virus can be unpredictable. So, if things get worse, there is always a chance we may need to make a change to these recommendations.

But we know that, the more people are vaccinated, the less cases we will have and the less chance of a new spike or additional variants emerging. If you develop symptoms, you should put your mask back on and get tested right away.

The science is also very clear about unvaccinated people. You remain at risk of mild or severe illness, of death or of spreading the disease to others. You should still mask, and you should get vaccinated right away.

This is an exciting and powerful moment. It could only happen because of the work of so many who made sure we have the rapid administration of three safe and effective vaccines. It could also only happen because we have an adequate supply of those vaccines for everyone 12 years and older in this country.

Your health and how soon you return to normal life before the pandemic are in your very capable hands. If you are not yet vaccinated, please go to or text your zip code to get GETVAX -- that is 438829 -- to find a vaccine in your area.

Once you are fully vaccinated, two weeks after your last dose, you can shed your mask.


Thank you.

I will now turn things over to Dr. Fauci.


So, Dr. Walensky has spoken to you about exciting issues that we can now look forward to when you have vaccination.

I'm going to talk to you a little bit about the future of where we want to go with vaccines with regard to coronavirus. And that is the development of a universal coronavirus vaccine.

If I can have the first slide.

This is something that has been discussed now for some time, these two articles, one in the lay press in "The New York Times" from Carl Zimmer asking about the possibility of a universe of coronavirus and the other in "Science" magazine by Jon Cohen.

So, what would we mean by universal coronavirus? Next slide. This is the phylogenetic tree of the coronaviruses. The ones in red font are human coronaviruses. And the four that have yellow highlighting are the four viruses that account for anywhere from 5 to 15 percent of the common colds that we all get each year.

Next slide.

In 2002, you had SARS-CoV-1 and, in 2012, you had SARS -- the MERS coronavirus, again, the first indication that coronaviruses were capable of pandemic potential. And then now on the next slide, as you see, we are dealing with this death very difficult situation of the historic pandemic of SARS-CoV-2.

Next slide.

So, what people are asking is, can we actually conceptually and in reality get a pan-coronavirus vaccine? There have been a number of forays into that using different types of vaccine platforms. But there was a recent paper published that I want to spend just a minute on, because it really is potentially exciting, and it is an important proof of concept.

Next slide. The paper appeared just a couple of days ago in the journal "Nature."

And what it is was the development of neutralizing antibodies for both pandemic and preemergent coronaviruses by a particular platform technology technique.

Let me explain. Next slide.

The proof of concept is one that antibodies that can neutralize multiple different coronaviruses have been isolated from people in their normal immune response who are infected with SARS-CoV-1. This was a strong suggestion that a pan-coronavirus might be possible.

What the investigators at Duke University found out was that a specific highly conserved site on the receptor binding domain of the spike protein makes multiple human and bat coronaviruses highly vulnerable to cross-neutralizing antibodies.

And with that observation -- next slide -- what they did is that they designed a nanoparticle vaccine which actually displayed, as shown on this slide, 24 copies of this receptor binding domain and added an adjuvant to boost the immune response.

And so, in monkeys, the nanoparticle vaccine completely blocked SARS- CoV-2 infection and elicited higher neutralizing antibody activity then seen with current vaccines or with natural infection, but, importantly, which is the crux of this discussion, is that the vaccine elicited cross-neutralizing antibody against bat coronaviruses, human SARS-CoV-2, SARS-CoV-2, and variants of SARS-CoV-2 that we are dealing with, such as B117, P.1, and B1351.

Now, although these are experiments conducted in a nonhuman primate, and we always have to have a caveat when you're dealing in a nonhuman primate, nonetheless, this is an extremely important proof of concept that we will be aggressively pursuing as we get into the development of human trials.

So, I will stop there -- and back to you, Andy.

SLAVITT: Thank you, Dr. Fauci, Dr. Walensky.

All right, let's take questions.


I know everybody probably has a lot of questions today, so we can get through as many as possible.

Please, one question each.

Tamara Keith, NPR.

QUESTION: Thank you for taking my question.

I am wondering what this means about social distancing, what this means about your guidelines for schools and workplaces, and also what you think this mask change might mean for incentives, whether it will incentivize people to get vaccinated or, for people who had been resistant, now they have no reason to get vaccinated?


SLAVITT: Dr. Walensky.

WALENSKY: Thank you, Tamara, for that question.

I want to be clear that we follow the science here. While this may serve as incentive for some people to get vaccinated, that is not the purpose. Our purpose here is, as a public health agency, to follow the science and to follow where we are with regard to the science and what is safe for individuals to do.

Of course, this guidance is really just for individuals who are vaccinated and what they can do, safely do. And we have work ahead of us in terms of updating our guidance with regard to all other settings, as you note, schools and camps, and that will be the work that we have ahead of us.

SLAVITT: Next question.


QUESTION: Hi. Thanks for taking my question.

You mentioned the science. And we know it's been about 16 days since the CDC last updated its guidance on masks. We also saw heavy criticism in the last week for moving too slow. Has the science really changed in 16 days? Or is this a response to public criticism?

WALENSKY: Thank you for that question.

So, several things have happened in the last two weeks. In the last two weeks, the cases in this country have dropped by a third. In the last two weeks, we have had increasing available vaccine, and we now have available and eligible people between the ages of 12 and 15.

And we have had a coalescence of more science that has emerged just in the last week. The science has been in three areas. One is the effectiveness of vaccines in general in real-world populations. One is the effectiveness against -- excuse me -- against variants, which was just published last week, and then the effectiveness in preventing transmissibility.


Someone, get some water.

OK, next question.



My question is for you, Dr. Walensky. You said regardless of gathering size, and even if indoors, you don't

have to wear a mask. I noticed that you did not list exceptions beyond health care providers, I believe. So, does this mean vaccinated people can take their mask off on an airplane?

WALENSKY: So, right now -- thank you for that question, Kaitlan.

Right now, we still have the requirement to wear masks when you travel on buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation. And we are -- as well as airports and stations.

CDC, as I mentioned, is going to continue to update our guidances as policy and the science emerges.

Right now, for travel, we are asking people to continue to wear their masks.

SLAVITT: Next question.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's go to Mona Austin at the Urban Radio Report.

QUESTION: Thanks so much for taking my question.

I'm wondering if you have given any thought to extra measures to help African-American parents and perhaps embedded fear over getting their children now vaccinated, since there was such a hesitation in the African-American community throughout the pandemic?

SLAVITT: Dr. Walensky, you want to start with that?

WALENSKY: Yes, thank you for that question.

We recognize that we have had to do extra outreach in many different kinds of communities, the trusted messenger campaigns that we are doing, having vaccine available in local pharmacies, having vaccine available in local pediatricians.

And with now the availability of vaccine and for 12-to-15-year-olds, we are absolutely conducting that extra outreach, not only for parents to want the vaccine themselves, but for parents to want to get their children vaccinated as well, absolutely.

SLAVITT: Let me just add a couple of measures.

First of all, while vaccines are great and they're having a massive impact, all questions that people have are reasonable, whether it's for themselves or their children. And as individual communities have very specific questions, that's why we have created the Health Equity Task Force. And that's why we have created a whole set of people in communities that can answer questions.

The only thing that people should make sure they do is ask a trusted physician, ask a clergy, ask a pharmacist, ask someone reliable and trustworthy to -- about getting vaccinated. Don't go online to some social media site and get whatever you get.

And that's the job that we're doing here, is to make sure those questions can get answered.

Next question.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tommy Christopher, Mediaite.

QUESTION: Hello. Yes, thank you for doing this.

My question is for Dr. Fauci.

I heard you say to Gayle King -- she said that people were looking at her funny for wearing a mask, even though she's vaccinated. And I was wondering if you had anything to say to people who have been vaccinated and still want to wear masks in situations that the CDC says are low risk.

Is there anything wrong with that, and should people be side-eying them?