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CDC: Vaccinated People Can Go Without Masks Indoors and Outdoors. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired May 13, 2021 - 14:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[14:30:00]

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: 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-eyeing them?

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: No, not at all. I mean, people have to make their own personal choice.

What you heard from Dr. Walensky is the recommendation based on science, and that's just a recommendation. And when people want to do that, they at least have the science behind them.

There's absolutely nothing wrong with an individual who has a certain level for risk aversion, as we know, the risk is extremely low of getting infected if you're vaccinated, whether you're indoors or outdoors.

But there are those people who don't want to take that bit of a risk, and there's nothing wrong with that and they shouldn't be criticized.

ANDY SLAVITT, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISER FOR COVID-19 RESPONSE: Dr. Walensky, anything you want to add to that?

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: Yes. Thank you for that.

So we - the science demonstrates, if you're fully vaccinated, you are protected. It's the people that are not fully vaccinated in those settings, who might not be wearing a mask who are not protected.

And it's those people that we are encouraging to get vaccinated and to wear a mask and to physically distance.

So if you're vaccinated in those settings, you certainly can wear a mask if you want to. But we're saying, in those settings, based on the findings, that it is safe.

You know, we're going to be looking at all of our guidance and updating all of our guidance, including our travel guidance.

And - shortly as we do an overview now that we have this new guidance out there.

SLAVITT: Next question.

Kristen Welker, NBC.

KRISTEN WELKER, CO-CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NBC NEWS:

Hi, thank you so much for taking the question.

Can you talk about how this new guidance squares with the fact that you're still concerned about the variants that could be in this country and other countries?

And can you speak to this report that there are seven, apparently, New York Yankees members of the coaching and support staff that have tested positive for COVID-19, despite the fact that they were vaccinated with the J&J vaccine?

Should people be concerned about that headline? What do we take away from that?

Thank you.

WALENSKY: Thank you, Kristen.

With regard to the variants, we are now sequencing about 30,000 to 35,000 samples a week. We have a really good window into what certain variants are circulating here. About 7 percent to 10 percent of all viruses we're now sequencing.

And we now have data that shows not only in the lab but in real populations, in cohorts, that our vaccines work against the variants that are circulating here.

We will consistently be looking for new variants and will be testing for new variants. We have not found any yet that suggest that the vaccines do not work against them.

With regard to the Yankees, we obviously need to learn more about that situation.

My understanding is that six of the seven infections were, indeed, asymptomatic infections. And we will look to more data from that report to understand what happened there.

All of the real-world data that we have seen that's been in the published literature, large studies, in many different settings, have demonstrated that those vaccines are effective, have a high effectiveness against disease.

SLAVITT: Next question.

Last question, let's go to Zeke Miller at the A.P.

ZEKE MILLER, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Thanks for doing this. I was hoping you might go to outline what is the federal government's

message to people who are not fully vaccinated right now? What should they be doing while they're fully vaccinated peers and family members may be taking off their masks, number one?

And number two, what is the message to businesses, schools, others, anyone else in a setting where it's hard to determine who is and who is not fully vaccinated in terms of modernizing or response or bringing their patrons into compliance with CDC guidelines.

[14:35:00]

WALENSKY: Thank you so much.

So, my first message is, if you are not fully vaccinated, you are not fully protected. And so you need to be continuing to wear your mask and practicing all of the mitigation strategies that we have been discussing before. And then, importantly, get fully vaccinated.

So, text 438829, find a vaccine near you, and get yourself fully vaccinated.

So, that's really the first message if you're not fully vaccinated.

With regard to what businesses, communities, schools, we, of course, will be updating our guidance in many of these areas very shortly.

But importantly, I think we really need to understand that this country is very heterogenous, it's not uniform. So these are going to -- these decisions are going to have to be made at the local level.

And I would encourage counties and localities to look at how much vaccine they have, how many people have been vaccinated, look at how many cases are in their area, and to make those decisions with that information in mind.

SLAVITT: Thank you all. And have a great day.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: All right, landmark day in the fight against COVID-19 and the pandemic.

The line, "Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities, large or small, without wearing a mask or physically distancing."

Let's bring in chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Sanjay, what did you take away from this? Because there's still a lot of gray areas that have to be navigated.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. It's come into clearer focus. But there's still a little blurriness around the edges here.

It's a big day. I mean, you know, overall, I think the CDC, what they're saying now reflects the science that has been emerging now for the past several weeks.

Really since we started vaccinating people en masse and collecting real world data, it became very clear that not only were vaccines really good at keeping people from getting sick.

They were also really good at keeping people from getting infected. Because you can be infected without getting sick.

But the third component was, even if you did get an infection, even if you tested positive for COVID after having been vaccinated, it was unlikely you would develop enough virus in your body to transmit it to others.

Those are the three components. Not likely to get sick, not likely to get infected and very unlikely to transmit the virus to somebody else if you did.

So that's why this guidance now says, if you're vaccinated, you really don't need to wear a mask indoors or outdoors, gatherings large or small, as you said.

The blurriness that you're alluding to, which I completely agree with is, how do you know? You go into a public place of some sort. You're vaccinated so you're OK, protected, you know, very well protected against getting sick.

There may be other people who are not wearing masks. Are they also vaccinated? How do you know? Are they in compliance? How's that all going to sort out?

Unless you have to show proof of vaccination, that's going to be challenging.

The other thing that Dr. Walensky did not answer, despite being asked twice, once by Kaitlan and once again by Kristen Welker, was, why still masks on things like airplanes then.

If you're saying you don't need to wear masks, if you're vaccinated, indoors, outdoors, gatherings large and small, why airplanes still?

There's still a little bit of -- it's still not clear to me exactly what's driving some of these recommendations.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Sanjay, despite all of that, I just want to take a moment to mark this minute.

Because I found myself welling up when Dr. Walensky was talking, and she said, we have an exciting announcement, and I still find myself welling up, even right now.

Because you know, you and I talked every morning during the past year about how many more Americans were going to die, what was going to happen, were we going to make it to the vaccines, were we all going to survive? What was going to happen?

And 580,000 Americans didn't make it to this day, you know? This day that they say that we can throw these away, that we've all been clinging to.

And here we are. I mean, we just didn't know when this day would come, but it feels a little bit like it's over today. Doesn't it?

GUPTA: You're getting me emotional, too, Alisyn. I mean, gosh, I got goose bumps as you were talking.

It's a really important day. It is. And I hear what you're saying, because can we say that and still be really honest about the trauma and the tragedy we've been through? Significant.

I mean, this is -- should not feel like in any way that minimizes what has happened over this past year. I completely agree.

And you know, it's not over in the sense that you well know that there's 34,000 people still became infected today, 600 people still died.

I mean, I know those are much smaller numbers than we have been talking about, but 600 people died today. Of this disease, a disease that didn't exist at the end of 2019.

[14:40:02]

In the United States. You know, 600 people died. So, you know, we're not through it yet. But it does feel, I agree with you, very momentous.

And I think another thing is, as hard as it was to get people to do the science-based things at the beginning of this pandemic, we should not make the mistake of making it hard to stop doing things that are no longer necessary, not following the science again.

We got to follow the science, whichever direction it takes us. It tells us to do things we're not comfortable doing in the beginning but now it says we don't need to do things and we got to follow that science as well.

BLACKWELL: Let's pick up right there. Because this is the recommendation from the CDC. The states, the businesses have to now implement these.

What does a business owner do who has been requiring masks to come in and has kept the tables separated and social distancing when now half the customers come in or a third come in and say, I don't have to wear a mask, the CDC says I don't have to socially distance.

What are they supposed to do now in their responsibility to mitigate the spread of the virus?

GUPTA: That is the blurriness around the edges, Victor, you know, that we're talking about. It's -- this is -- they've sort of left it on these communities and these private organizations now to sort of handle that.

Are they going to require proof of vaccination in order to not be compliant with their rules that they have had in place for so long?

I don't know. I think that's going to be a difficult transition period.

Because as you point out, you know, first of all, there's still tens of thousands of people becoming infected every day. But there's only about a third of the country that has been fully vaccinated at this point.

Hopefully, the numbers will continue to grow and this may serve as some incentive.

But that is -- I think it's going to be different in different places.

There may be places that still say, hey, look, you know what, we're erring on the side of safety still. We're still going to, at least indoors, we're telling people they need to wear masks because we don't know if you've been vaccinated or not.

I think that's also what we saw some of Dr. Walensky's hesitation when she was asked twice about airplanes. She said, we will update our guidance on that soon.

So, they're drawing these lines here, still. We're going through this period of transition. It's not completely sort of lifted, you know, in terms of masks because there are those sorts of scenarios that you're describing.

BLACKWELL: Alisyn, I wonder, it's OK now for me to go to church on Sunday morning and sing all the hymns and stand shoulder to shoulder. It's OK now for me to go to a movie theater and laugh and shout and talk back to the screen.

But if I get on a flight from Atlanta to New York, I've got to put my mask back on.

CAMEROTA: And no singing and no talking back on that flight also.

BLACKWELL: Can't do that either.

CAMEROTA: I know. I mean, it is a -- OK, yes, it's still nebulous. It is still confusing. I understand all of that.

And obviously, I think that they're asking for a little patience from all of us as they come out and roll out more guidance.

And also, Sanjay, were you surprised that they -- I thought that they were going to lift the mask guidance when certain communities hit certain benchmarks, right?

If you were at a 1 percent positivity rate in your town or your state, well, then, OK, you could get rid of the masks but they're not doing that.

I mean, they made a much more blanket statement than that, that, OK, if we're doubly vaccinated, as all three of us are, we can take off our masks today.

GUPTA: I was surprised by that. And I was surprised not because -- I think what they've done today does follow the science. I was surprised by that because clearly they hadn't already made some of these recommendations.

And I wonder, what are the hesitations? Why not do this a few weeks ago or a couple months ago?

And I think it's exactly what you said, Alisyn. They were saying, the United States is a very heterogenous place. There are places where you have very low viral transmission and lots of places where the viral transmission is still too high.

Yes, your risk is very, very low of getting sick, you know, 95 percent protected. But if you're living in an area where there's a lot of viral spread still your odds are increased because there's more virus in the environment.

So I thought they would wait, just like you say. But they're not. They're saying, for the country, as a whole, you know, here's the deal. You don't need to wear a mask, if you're vaccinated, indoors, gatherings, large or small.

BLACKWELL: How about schools? What do you do now with schools where you have got some teenagers who are wearing masks who are vaccinated? You've got some who are not.

I don't mean to be a pessimist here. I'm just trying to get the clarity on what this means for families, for businesses who have to now navigate this recommendation from the CDC but we still have to see how much of this will be implemented practically.

GUPTA: Right. No, and you know, they were asked about that specifically. You get to make these guidelines sort of at the national level, but then it is up to communities and organizations, schools, businesses, to implement them.

[14:45:00]

I think with schools, you're obviously, now with vaccines available for 12 to 15-year-olds, so this is really going to be about younger students going into the fall next year.

What is that going to mean for them? Perhaps we may have even vaccines authorized for younger people by that time as well. We'll see.

I think it's going to be a risk tolerance situation. There may be some school districts -- by the way, schools could have still opened safely even without vaccines, just to be clear. There were plenty of studies that have shown that.

But they did require masks and physical distancing and adequate ventilation.

How will this new guidance affect those measures over the next several weeks and then, obviously, as we start up again in the fall?

BLACKWELL: I'm excited too, Alisyn, by the way. I am excited that vaccinated people can take the masks off.

GUPTA: You're the pessimist, Victor.

BLACKWELL: No, I just wonder, now, when I go to the grocery store, I don't wear my mask, what happens? Because I've been wearing a mask for a year. It takes a bit of adjustment. I don't know what these businesses will do.

GUPTA: It's going to feel weird.

BLACKWELL: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

CAMEROTA: Well, you heard Andy Slavitt there say they're anti-side- eye.

BLACKWELL: I call it the stank eye. That's what I got in Baltimore when I was outside without a mask.

CAMEROTA: I know. We've talked about this. This is going to require the honor system, Sanjay, and it's going to require trust, even for everybody.

Because we have been conditioned now to be -- you know, to feel anxious and to have so much anxiety and to look at people without masks and what are you doing, and why aren't you concerned about your neighbor's health.

And now, today, to peel this mask off, it's going to require the honor system.

And I also thought it was interesting that they talked about the psychology. It's going to take people a while. Old habits die hard. And so do anxiety. And it's going to take a while.

And we're going to even see people who are doubly vaccinated still wearing their masks because people are still scared. And who could blame them after the trauma of what we've been through the past year?

GUPTA: No doubt. I mean, I see that, and I hear that all the time.

And also, you know, I mean, look, there may be these situations where they do recommend that at least for periods of time, wearing a mask would be a good idea.

I mean, you know, even during flu season, we saw flu rates drop down.

I don't know that the United States will become a mask-wearing country like we see in other countries around the world. But you know, who knows?

That's -- it's going to be a period of adjustment, just as hard as it was to get people to start doing these things, it's also going to be hard to get people to stop doing these things or unnecessarily doing these things, I should say.

BLACKWELL: Sanjay, we have had the conversation during this administration and the last, of the importance of leading by example.

I remember when former President Trump came home from Walter Reed and went to the top of the stairs and ripped the mask off, although he had COVID at the time.

This president has been criticized for wearing a mask outdoors when even the CDC suggested it wasn't necessary because he's Viet Cong.

Should we, do you expect we will see the president wear a mask anymore?

GUPTA: That's a good question. I don't know. You know, he doesn't need to. I mean, the science is what it is.

It is funny, Andy Slavitt was asked about this and he gave some version of an answer that says, the president's different, he has Secret Service. There's extra things that go into protecting the president.

But you know, the science shows -- he's 78 years old as well, so he's considered vulnerable. But if you're vaccinated, and you're around people who are vaccinated, as he is, he shouldn't need to wear a mask.

You know, when he's in the Oval Office, when he's working at the White House, he shouldn't need to wear a mask.

So we'll see how that behavior changes, how much of it is just his habit that he's now picked up.

But I think what we can say now -- and the CDC has said this based on looking at the data -- that, hey, you're very unlikely to get sick, B, very unlikely to get infected and, C, if I do become infected, you're very unlikely to spread the virus. So he's well protected.

CAMEROTA: Sanjay, if you'll stick around, we would really appreciate it. We still have more questions.

[14:49:04]

We need to take a very quick break. More NEWSROOM in a few minutes.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CAMEROTA: Folks, we have had huge news this hour. For doubly vaccinated, fully vaccinated Americans, the CDC just changed their guidance. You can now lose the mask outdoors and indoors regardless, Dr. Walensky said, the size of the group.

Other than on mass transit. And said they're still looking at the science of that and they'll come out with some guidance soon on that.

And, Victor, just what a remarkable hour it has been. To hear the CDC say that in such a definitive way was really remarkable.

BLACKWELL: It was a massive social change in how we will treat the mitigation of this virus and the way we live our lives.

I mean, the idea that social distancing is over for vaccinated people is going to change the way we interact with people moving forward.

Let's bring back Dr. Sanjay Gupta still with us.

I know I am getting slammed on social media. But I think we need to balance the excitement of the moment with what this means for people that have to implement it, when we are going to the grocery store, the mall?

How do you look at this announcement, as the social element of the pandemic?

GUPTA: Well, I think it's going to be challenging for lots of institutions to figure out what to do with this because it's going to feel like whiplash, they have become so diligent in some places, private institutions and grocery stores and whatever it may be. And this is different guidance.

[14:55:03]

I think the -- part of it is you have to look at it like this on a practical level. If you are vaccinated, you are very well protected against getting sick, getting infected and even transmitting the virus.

That last part is a crucial newer ingredient, even if you are vaccinated and the likelihood that if you became infected you are unlikely to transmit the virus because you just won't build up enough of a virus load.

That's why vaccinated people, in part, were still told to wear masks.

So the questions you're asking then is about, what about unvaccinated people who say, you know what, I'm not vaccinated but I'm not going to wear a mask either.

They are really putting themselves at risk. Themselves. Not necessarily others, vaccinated people at risks. But they're putting themselves at risk and potentially other unvaccinated people at risk.

That's the metric. There's two communities right now in the country, the vaccinated and unvaccinated.

Are you, as a vaccinated person doing a disservice by going into that establishment without a mask on? No. That is what the CDC is saying.

Is an unvaccinated person doing a disserve? Well, they're not putting the vaccinated people at risk. They're putting themselves and other unvaccinated people at risk. That's the dichotomy.

CAMEROTA: OK, let's bring in White House chief correspondent, Kaitlan Collins.

Kaitlan, this, as I understand it, was not supposed to happen today, this new CDC guidance? At least we had been told earlier that wait was going to take a while longer.

And then something changed and something was reversed. What was behind this huge announcement today?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You heard Walensky say earlier what changed in the last two weeks were the cases numbers changing, they said new science emerging about what the data really shows on this, talking about that and the vaccine supply.

But also, we know they were facing a lot of pressure from lawmakers and other public health experts saying, your guidance right now is just too conservative.

You saw Walensky was one of those officials on Capitol Hill testifying earlier this week where she was pressed repeatedly on this.

So this was a surprise to White House officials. They have gone to great lengths in saying we are not involved in what the CDC is doing, they make their own guidance.

Because they really try to draw and distinguish that line, giving they felt like that was a line that did not exist during the Trump administration where, often, political officials tried to pressure the scientists at the CDC and FDA.

So they really tried not to be involved.

So, yes, it did catch them off guard that the CDC was going to issue this guidance.

But obviously, they see it as a welcome development because you heard President Biden even being pushed on it by governors during a call earlier this week, saying we need the help of the federal government to model this new guidance.

And I do want to say, some news we're just getting in, which is that, given the new CDC guidance we got on what vaccinated people could do, basically getting rid of that mask in most situations, even indoors, we are told the White House sent an e-mail to its staffers telling them they no longer have to wear a mask on White House grounds if they are fully vaccinated, of course.

That was the rule before that you did not have to wear it if you were sitting at your desk. But if you are walking around the halls and complex, even vaccinated, staffers were still wearing a mask.

So now, even the White House is updating its guidance based on the new CDC guidance.

I think the questions that are going to follow this are: Does this transport to the Transportation, to TSA, their mask mandate for planes that we were talking about, to private businesses, the mandates they have at grocery stores and what not?

Does that start to trickle down and change that guidance for them now that the CDC issued its own guidance, of course.

BLACKWELL: Sanjay, should we expect to soon see a return to concerts that are full or filling more of the stadiums across the country because of the recommendation that came from the CDC today?

GUPTA: Yes, I think so. I think certainly for outdoor venues, I think it was pretty clear already going to the summer a lot of these organizations were planning large events and things like that.

I think for the indoor events -- and this was the right issue you bring up, Victor -- which is, what is that going to mean for these venues? Are they going to require some proof of vaccination? That might be. Private organizations can do that.

Potentially say you have to have a passport or a vaccination proof of some sort, so we'll see.

These are a lot of discussions that have been going on at the CDC for some time. They haven't reached some conclusions.

Elizabeth Cohen has been doing reporting on the back and forth to get to this point today, which is a significant point.

But even though we are hearing something pretty conclusive, there was a lot of back and forth.

[14:59:50]

I have heard from people -- as Elizabeth did as well -- that up until recently, the thinking was we are not likely to sort of loosen indoor masking for some time.

And that will be the last thing to loosen because it's so effective and a rather easy thing to do.

This represents a significant change.