White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Friday insisted that the new federal guidance on masks came from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in a back-and-forth with Fox News White House correspondent Peter Doocy during a briefing.
Psaki said the guidance that vaccinated individuals are not required to wear masks indoors or outdoors, or physically distance, was made by the CDC. “Not by us, not by the president,” Psaki said, adding that the White House was working to implement the new guidance “across the government.”
“Our North Star has been listening to the guidance of ur medical and health experts and teams and that’s exactly what we’re doing in this case,” Psaki said.
When Doocy asked about how the administration planned to enforce the new guidance, with still a large majority of Americans awaiting their coronavirus vaccines, Psaki said it would be up to states and businesses to decide. She did not specifically respond to Doocy’s question about whether President Biden still thought certain states exhibited “Neanderthal thinking” for easing up on mask rules, as Biden suggested back in March.
“The guidance is not telling states and localities exactly how they should implement,” Psaki replied, noting that some states and communities were ahead of others in terms of vaccinating large swaths of their populations, and that it would be up to those communities and businesses how best to implement the new guidance.
The CDC issued the new mask guidance on Thursday. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, though, said fully vaccinated individuals were still advised to wear masks while in crowded indoor settings, such as while riding public transportation and in hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters.
Walensky added that immunocompromised individuals, however, should consult a physician before giving up masks, warning that if the country’s cases of COVID-19 increase again, the guidance on masks could change.
“This virus can be unpredictable, so if things get worse, there is always a chance we need to make a change to these recommendations,” Walensky said Thursday.
When pressed whether public criticism pressured the CDC to update the recommendations, Walensky said the agency was following the science. “I want to be clear that we followed the science here,” Walensky said Thursday. “While this may serve as an 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.”
Biden, speaking alongside Vice President Kamala Harris in the Rose Garden on Thursday, touted the CDC’s guidance on mask-wearing as a “great milestone.”
“If you have been fully vaccinated, you no longer need to wear a mask. Let me repeat, if you are fully vaccinated, you no longer need to wear a mask,” Biden said. “I think it’s a great milestone, a great day. It’s been made possible by the extraordinary success we have had in vaccinating so many Americans, so quickly.”
But, the president urged Americans who have not yet been vaccinated, to do so.
“Get vaccinated or wear a mask until you do,” the president said. “As great as this announcement is today, we don’t want to let up. We all know how tough this virus has been…The safest thing for the country is for everyone to get vaccinated.”
The president’s comments followed an FDA expanded use authorization to allow Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to be administered in kids as young as 12, with the CDC following suit Wednesday.
Biden also reiterated his goal to have 70% of the U.S. adult population receiving at least one COVID-19 vaccine by July 4.
Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers questioned the administration’s timing on the new mask guidance.
“Why today? The science hasn’t changed,” Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., tweeted.
“While the new mask guidance is encouraging, the CDC and my Far Radical Left colleagues only chose to do this to distract from the consequences of catastrophic policy decisions that have been heard around the world,” Rep. Andy Biggs, chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, said Thursday. “Inflation is rising, the Middle East is in shambles, the working class can’t fill up their gas tanks, our border is being overrun and the Biden Administration’s leadership is nowhere to be found.”
Fox News’ Kayla Rivas and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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