Politics CDC's Walensky is the wrong media messenger on COVID-19
The Mask Mandate Debate Is Back. Here’s What to Know.
Amid the Delta-fueled wave of U.S. COVID cases, universal mask mandates are back on the table and as politically fraught as ever.A week ago, Los Angeles County became the first major metropolitan area to reinstate a mask mandate in indoor public spaces for both unvaccinated and vaccinated residents. And amid a nationwide surge of new COVID-19 fueled by the more transmissible Delta variant, America’s largest county isn’t the only place where universal mask mandates are back on the table. The Delta wave has thus reignited the already politically charged debate over face mask mandates.
The exchange on Friday between Fox News Channel anchor Bret Baier and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky perfectly encapsulated the federal government's patently poor communications on the COVID-19 virus.
"Are you for mandating a vaccine on a federal level?" Baier asked.
"You know, that's something that I think the administration is looking into. It's something that I think we are looking to see approval of from the vaccine,".
"Overall, I think in general, I am all for more vaccination. But, you know - I have nothing further to say on that except that we're looking into those policies," she added.
Analysis: White House dominance of pandemic message might feed political divides
Once a week, sometimes twice a week, the nation hears the official report about the coronavirus pandemic -- straight from the White House. © White House Photo White House Covid-19 Briefing on June 22. Just as former President Donald Trump owned the first year of the pandemic, Biden owns the second year. And while it's important to have the White House and President out front in a national emergency of this magnitude, it's likely the near total White House domination of the response is widening the unhelpful political divides that are making it harder than it needs to be to fight coronavirus.
The answer quickly caught fire on social media, prompting Walensky to directly respond to a CNBC reporter who noted - in an ALL-CAPS tweet - the revelation around federally mandating vaccinations:
U.S. CDC DIRECTOR SAYS FEDERALLY MANDATING COVID-19 VACCINATION IS SOMETHING THE BIDEN ADMINISTRATION IS LOOKING AT -FOX NEWS INTERVIEW- Berkeley Lovelace (@BerkeleyJr)
.- Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH (@CDCDirector) To clarify: There will be no nationwide mandate. I was referring to mandates by private institutions and portions of the federal government. There will be no federal mandate.
Portions of the federal government? That's quite a difference from Walensky's original answer, which was seen by infinitely more people than her clarification on Twitter.
U.S. CDC chief says there will be no federal mandate on COVID-19 vaccine
U.S. CDC chief says there will be no federal mandate on COVID-19 vaccine"To clarify: There will be no nationwide mandate. I was referring to mandates by private institutions and portions of the federal government," Walensky wrote in a Twitter post. "There will be no federal mandate.
It's no wonder trust in the CDC has plummetedlast year during the early months of the pandemic. A recent NPR poll shows barely half of Americans have a great deal of trust in the CDC. A May WebMD-Medscape poll gets even worse, with 77 percent saying their trust in the CDC has decreased since the start of the pandemic. It's hard to see how that number isn't even higher as we enter August.
Poll Finds Public Health Has A Trust Problem- NPR Health News (@NPRHealth)
Trust in CDC, FDA Took a Beating During Pandemic. Many healthcare professionals no longer trust the CDC and FDA. Maybe that's one reason why many of them are refusing the Covid vaccine.- Luke Yamaguchi (@gutresolution)
To be fair, Walensky isn't the only one to blame for all of this; the problem started during the Trump administration. But Walensky's flip-flops have become all too common. It was just two months ago that she went on "The Rachel Maddow Show" to declare that vaccinated people didn't have to wear masks anymore. And, yes, cases of the delta variant had been recorded for some time before that declaration was made.
The pandemic turning point the White House didn't want
President Joe Biden is tired of wearing a mask. © Susan Walsh/AP President Joe Biden holds his face mask as he speaks in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Thursday, July 29, 2021. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) Stepping into the East Room on Thursday, his face covered in black surgical fabric for the first time in weeks, the President made no attempt to disguise his disappointment at returning to the most charged symbol of the pandemic era.
How did CDC Director Rochelle Walensky go from asserting so definitively *just 2 months ago* that there is no health reason for vaccinated people to wear masks, to issuing today's alarmist message about vaccine-resistant strains? There were variants then:- Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald)
"Forgive me for speaking in impersonal terms and I don't mean to be too blunt about this, but how sure are you?" Maddow asked Walensky about dropping mask mandates on May 13. "Because this feels like a really big change."
"We're sure," Walensky responded. "There's an extraordinary amount of evidence now that demonstrates the vaccines are working in the real world, in cohort studies, in care facilities, in - across all states, that these vaccines are working the way they worked in the clinical trials. Importantly, there's also new data just even in the last two weeks that demonstrates these vaccines are working in - against the variants that we have circulating here in the United States, and also data has emerged that has demonstrated that if you are vaccinated, you are less likely, not likely, to asymptomatically shed the virus and give to it others."
Pressure grows on CDC to expand tracking of Covid-19 breakthrough cases
The agency’s decision to limit its reporting of breakthrough cases has prompted wide variation in how states keep tabs on them. At least 30 states are monitoring all breakthrough infections, according to a POLITICO survey of state officials. Another eight — including Ohio, Texas and South Carolina — said they’re following CDC’s approach and only collecting data on severe cases. Two, Iowa and Missouri, said they don’t have good data on breakthrough cases of any type.
That narrative of which Walensky was so sure then has now, of course, been completely turned on its head. Masks are back. Breakthrough cases are primarily driven by the delta variant. Vaccinated people with COVID can shed the virus at the same rate as the unvaccinated,.
Predictably, there have been conflicting reactions to the CDC's new mask mandate, with the American Medical Associationand former U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb insisting .
"I trust the experts at the CDC to follow the science but the 'C' clearly doesn't stand for COMMUNICATIONS!" tweeted David Axelrod, former senior adviser to President Obama. "Too little has been done to foreshadow and explain the changing directives that variable conditions require,"
I trust the experts at the CDC to follow the science but the C clearly doesn't stand for COMMUNICATIONS!
Too little has been done to foreshadow and explain the changing directives that variable conditions require.- David Axelrod (@davidaxelrod)
Moving forward, the CDC needs to take a walk out to the figurative media mound, send Walensky back to the bench and replace her with a competent, professional, disciplined spokesperson. One who understands that words have consequences. One who understands word economy. One the public can trust.
Because not to do so will only lead to more public mistrust, more anger and more confusion over how best to defeat this virus, once and for all.
Joe Concha is a media and politics columnist for The Hill and a Fox News contributor.
These 5 figures show how bad the US Covid-19 surge is. But experts say we can turn things around .
As the rate of Covid-19 vaccinations climbed and new infection numbers plummeted in spring, many Americans thought they were in for a carefree summer. But lagging vaccinations and a highly contagious new variant dragged the US back into a vicious Covid-19 surge -- one that's prompted new mask mandates and measures and still shows no signs of slowing down. The rise in cases is being driven by unvaccinated Americans -- who health officials say also make up most of hospitalized Covid-19 patients and deaths across the country.