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CDC Mask Guidance Met With Hostility   07/29 06:14


   SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- One of the Republican Party's most prominent rising 
stars is mocking new government recommendations calling for more widespread use 
of masks to blunt a coronavirus surge.

   "Did you not get the CDC's memo?" Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis joked Wednesday 
before an almost entirely unmasked audience of activists and lawmakers crammed 
into an indoor hotel ballroom in Salt Lake City. "I don't see you guys 

   From Texas to South Dakota, Republican leaders responded with hostility and 
defiance to updated masking guidance from public health officials, who advise 
that even fully vaccinated people return to wearing masks indoors if they live 
in areas with high rates of virus transmission. The backlash reopened the 
culture war over pandemic restrictions just as efforts to persuade unvaccinated 
Americans to get shots appeared to be making headway.

   Egged on by former President Donald Trump, the response reflects deep 
resistance among many GOP voters to restrictions aimed at containing a virus 
they feel poses minimal personal threat. The party is also tapping into growing 
frustration and confusion over ever-shifting rules and guidance.

   But the resistance has real implications for a country desperate to emerge 
from the pandemic. Beyond vaccinations, there are few tools other than 
mask-wearing and social distancing to contain the spread of the delta variant, 
which studies have shown to be far more contagious than the original strain.

   Many Republican leaders, however, are blocking preventative measures, 
potentially making it harder to tame virus outbreaks in conservative 

   At least 18 Republican-led states have moved to prohibit vaccine passports 
or to ban public entities from requiring proof of vaccination. And some have 
prohibited schools from requiring any student or teacher to wear a mask or be 

   In its announcement, the CDC cited troubling new -- thus far unpublished -- 
research that found that fully vaccinated people can spread the delta variant 
just like the unvaccinated, putting those who haven't received the shots or who 
have compromised immune systems at heightened risk. The CDC also recommended 
that all teachers, staff and students wear masks inside school buildings, 
regardless of vaccination status.

   The backlash was swift.

   "We won't go back. We won't mask our children," declared Trump, who 
routinely cast doubt on the value of mask-wearing and rarely wore one in public 
while he was in office. "Why do Democrats distrust the science?"

   Missouri Gov. Mike Parson called the new guidance "disappointing and 
concerning" and "inconsistent with the overwhelming evidence surrounding the 
efficacy of the vaccines and their proven results."

   He, like others, warned that the measure would undermine efforts to 
encourage vaccine holdouts to get their shots by casting further doubt on the 
efficacy of approved vaccines, which have been shown to dramatically decrease 
the risk of death or hospitalization, despite the occurrence of breakthrough 

   Last week, White House officials reported that vaccination rates were on the 
rise in some states where COVID-19 cases were soaring, as more Republican 
leaders implored their constituents to lay lingering doubts aside and get the 
shots to protect themselves. That includes Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, who has 
pleaded with unvaccinated residents, saying they are the ones "letting us down."

   "This self-inflicted setback encourages skepticism and vaccine hesitancy at 
a time when the goal is to prevent serious illnesses and deaths from COVID-19 
through vaccination," Parson tweeted. "This decision only promotes fear & 
further division among our citizens."

   The announcement "will unfortunately only diminish confidence in the vaccine 
and create more challenges for public health officials  people who have 
worked tirelessly to increase vaccination rates," echoed Arizona Gov. Doug 
Ducey, who has banned mask and vaccine mandates in his state.

   In his Wednesday speech, DeSantis took particular aim at the CDC's call for 
kids to wear masks in the classroom.

   "It's not healthy for these students to be sitting there all day, 6-year-old 
kids in kindergarten covered in masks," he said -- though there is no evidence 
that wearing masks is harmful to children older than toddler age.

   And in South Dakota, Gov. Kristi Noem called out the CDC for shifting its 
position on masking "AGAIN." She said that those who are worried about the 
virus can get vaccinated, wear a mask or stay home, but that "Changing CDC 
guidelines don't help ensure the public's trust."

   On Capitol Hill, some Republicans were in revolt after the Capitol's 
attending physician sent a memo informing members that masks would again have 
to be worn inside the House at all times.

   The change set off a round robin of insults, with Democratic House Speaker 
Nancy Pelosi calling Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy "a moron" 
after McCarthy tweeted, "The threat of bringing masks back is not a decision 
based on science, but a decision conjured up by liberal government officials 
who want to continue to live in a perpetual pandemic state."

   The mandate also prompted an angry confrontation, as Rep. Maxine Waters, 
D-Calif., verbally assailed Rep. Burgess Owens, R-Utah, who exited the House 
chamber and walked past her without a face covering.

   Conservatives also forced a vote to adjourn the chamber in protest to the 
mandate, which was defeated along mostly party lines.

   "We have a crisis at our border, and we're playing footsie with mask 
mandates in the people's House," railed Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, the motion's 
sponsor. "The American people are fed up. They want to go back to life. They 
want to go back to business. They want to go back to school without their 
children being forced to wear masks."

   The nation is averaging nearly 62,000 new COVID-19 cases a day, and the vast 
majority of those hospitalized and dying haven't been vaccinated. As of Sunday, 
69% of American adults had received one vaccine dose, and 60% had been fully 
vaccinated, according to the CDC.

   Last year, early on in the pandemic, public health officials told Americans 
that masks offered little protection against the virus (and could even increase 
the risk of infection). The guidance was driven by a lack of knowledge about 
how the novel virus spread and a desire to save limited mask supplies for 
medical workers. But the CDC soon changed course and advised Americans to wear 
masks indoors and outdoors if they were within 6 feet (1.8 meters) of one 

   Then in April of this year, as vaccination rates rose sharply, the agency 
eased its guidelines, saying fully vaccinated Americans no longer needed to 
wear masks outdoors unless they were in big crowds of strangers. In May, the 
guidance was eased further, saying fully vaccinated people could safely stop 
wearing masks outdoors in crowds and in most indoor settings.

   Subsequent CDC guidance said fully vaccinated people no longer needed to 
wear masks at schools, either.

   Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House principal deputy press secretary, on 
Wednesday defended the changes, saying the CDC "did exactly what it was 
supposed to do."

   "The CDC has to adapt to the virus," she said, "and unfortunately because 
not enough Americans have stepped up to get vaccinated, they had to provide new 
guidance to help save lives."

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