Former CDC microbiologist says new mask guidance feels rushed, incomplete

The CDC's sudden decision Thursday to loosen its mask guidance caught a lot of people off guard.

Some were thrilled vaccinated Americans no longer need to wear a mask in public, seeing the development as a turning point in the pandemic.

Others, like Dr. Amber Schmidtke, Ph.D., a microbiologist who once worked at the Atlanta-based agency, felt the change in guidance was rushed and incomplete.

"I do not take any pleasure in critiquing the CDC here; I loved working there," Schmidtke says.

But, Schmidkte, who writes an online newsletter covering the pandemic in Georgia, says the CDC's announcement left her with a lot of questions.

For one, she says, the CDC did not provide much guidance for businesses on what the changes will mean.

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"We needed a lot more warning for businesses, schools and other jurisdictions to think through how they were going to implement this," Schmidtke says. "Unfortunately, when you leave a vacuum of information, then people can fill that in with whatever they want."

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Schmidtke says the announcement also created confusion for smaller businesses, which have spent the last 15 months requiring customers and employees to wear masks.

"Now, even wearing a mask itself is leading to confrontations, with people seeming to be offended by the employees, who are wearing masks while the customers aren't," she says.

Schmidtke agrees the science behind changing the mask guidance is solid.

Case rates and hospitalizations are dropping quickly across the US.

Nearly 44% of Americans 12 and older are now considered fully vaccinated, and the COVID-19 vaccines offer a high level of protection.

So, she says, people who are fully vaccinated can safely go without a mask in public settings, both indoors and outside.

But, Schmidtke says, the mask issue is trickier for families with children too young to be vaccinated or those with a family member with a compromised immune system, who may not mount a full immune response to the vaccine or cannot get the shots at all.

"So, for those families, for the past weeks and months, they've been able to go out into the community and do things, wearing masks, because everyone else was, too," Schmidtke says.  "So, what this does, is, it really forces those families to take a step back, at a time we were all starting to really enjoy, when we're emerging from a pandemic sort of life."

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