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US Fact check: CDC's new guidance for fully vaccinated people is not 'out of the blue'

00:46  20 may  2021
00:46  20 may  2021 Source:   usatoday.com

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The claim: The CDC lifting its COVID-19 guidelines 'out of the blue ... proves they lied to you the whole time'

a woman in a blue shirt: The updated CDC rules still call for everyone to wear masks in crowded indoor settings such as buses, planes and hospitals. © Provided by USA TODAY The updated CDC rules still call for everyone to wear masks in crowded indoor settings such as buses, planes and hospitals.

On May 13, theU.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced massive relaxations in COVID-19 guidelines for vaccinated individuals. Fully vaccinated people can now stop social distancing measures and mask-wearing indoors, with few exceptions

"Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities, large or small, without wearing a mask or physical distancing,'' CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said during a White House briefing that day. "If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic.''

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As many celebrated this partial return to pre-pandemic norms, critics speculated about the reasoning behind the shift.

“You guys do know that the CDC lifting those guidelines out of the blue with no solid explanation proves they lied to you the whole time about everything, right?” reads an image in a May 16 Facebook post.

The image is a screenshot of a May 15 tweet by conservative media personality Jesse Kelly that was retweeted more than 10,000 times and quickly migrated to Facebook and Instagram.

The CDC has said fully vaccinated people can largely ditch masks indoors © August De Richelieu, pexels.com The CDC has said fully vaccinated people can largely ditch masks indoors

Kelly has previously used his Twitter account to criticize the CDC, vaccine advocates, mask-wearing and the government's handling of the pandemic.

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His recent tweet is misinformed. The CDC’s updated guidance for vaccinated people is not “out of the blue.” Rather it is a response to improving case and death figures after a year of vaccine development and pandemic response efforts.

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USA TODAY reached out to several social media users that shared the image for comment.

CDC says it lifted guidelines as pandemic conditions improved

When the CDC announced it would update its indoor mask guidelines, the agency cited several reasons, including decreased case and hospitalization rates and evidence of vaccine efficacy.

“Currently authorized vaccines in the United States are highly effective at protecting vaccinated people against symptomatic and severe COVID-19,” the CDC wrote in its May 13 announcement. “Additionally, a growing body of evidence suggests that fully vaccinated people are less likely to have asymptomatic infection or transmit SARS-CoV-2 to others.”

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In the days leading up to the announcement, the CDC tracked several improvements in the status of the pandemic. The CDC reported a 23% decrease in new cases since May 9, and the weekly average of COVID-19 hospitalizations decreased by 12% from the previous week.

During the press conference, Andy Slavit, the White House coronavirus response senior adviser, reported a 45% drop in cases since every American over 16 became vaccine-eligible on April 19.

“And every day, with daily cases continuing to fall, we remain encouraged by these positive trends,” said Walensky.

Pop-up vaccination site in New York. © Mary Altaffer, AP Images Pop-up vaccination site in New York.

She also cited several recent studies that show fully vaccinated people are unlikely to carry and spread COVID-19.

According to the CDC, fully vaccinated people are those who are at least two weeks out from their second dose of Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna or their single dose of Johnson & Johnson.

Experts disagree with Kelly's claim

Aside from the CDC's explanation, experts disagree with Kelly's assertion.

Rebecca Fielding-Miller, a professor at the Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health at the University of California-San Diego, told USA TODAY in an email the updated guidance isconsistent with the CDC's commitment to enact evidence-base guidelines.

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"The data are clear that vaccines significantly and dramatically reduce an individual’s risk of infection, and if one is infected then they are much, much less likely to become severely ill or hospitalized," she wrote.

Dr. Amsh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Center for Health Security at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told USA TODAY he thought the CDC's updated guidelines were overdue.

Adalja pointed to accumulating evidence that vaccinated individuals are unlikely to contract and spread the virus. He said the new guidance was not "out of the blue"; rather it came from "an overcautious CDC that should have released it earlier."

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Fielding-Miller stressed this guidance only applies to those who are fully vaccinated and suggested immunocompromised people consult their doctors before choosing to forego masks. She advised unvaccinated people to continue mask-wearing to protect themselves and those around them.

"Personally, I’m fully vaccinated but will continue to mask in public for the foreseeable future because there is no way for a stranger in the grocery store to know if I am vaccinated or not," she wrote. "I’ve decided that my glasses fogging up in the freezer section is a small price to pay for helping the people around me feel safe."

As it fights a pandemic, CDC wages a second battle to win back trust

  As it fights a pandemic, CDC wages a second battle to win back trust The CDC lost a lot of public trust under the Trump administration. Now the premiere health agency is floundering in its efforts to win it back.Science dictated last week's guidance -- widely criticized as confusing -- advising fully vaccinated Americans that they could ditch the masks under most circumstances, Walensky said, citing studies showing the coronavirus vaccines not only provide better than 90% protection in real life, but also likely prevent vaccinated people from inadvertently infecting others.

Our rating: False

We rate the claim that recent relaxation of COVID-19 social distancing and mask guidelines for fully vaccinated individuals proves the CDC lied FALSE because it is not supported by our research. The CDC’s official announcement and Walensky’s comments confirm the decision was made due to recent pandemic improvements, including decreased new case and hospitalization rates and evidence of vaccination efficacy.  Experts agree these updated guidelines were not "out of the blue."

Our fact-check sources:

  • USA TODAY, May 13, CDC lifts indoor mask guidelines for fully vaccinated people. What does it actually mean?
  • White House Briefing Room, May 13, Press Briefing by White House COVID-19 Response Team and Public Health Officials
  • Jesse Kelly, May 13, tweet
  • Jesse Kelly, May 11, tweet
  • Jesse Kelly, April 27, tweet
  • Jesse Kelly, May 12, tweet
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, May 13, Guidance for Fully Vaccinated People, Summary of Recent Changes
  • USA TODAY, April 19, America reaches milestone with COVID-19 vaccine widely available to those who want it, but hesitancy still casts a shadow
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, April 2, Background Rationale and Evidence for Public Health Recommendations for Fully Vaccinated People
  • Rebecca Fielding-miller, April 18, email with USA TODAY
  • Dr. Amesh Adalja, April 19, phone interview with USA TODAY

Thank you for supporting our journalism. You can subscribe to our print edition, ad-free app or electronic newspaper replica here.

Our fact check work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook.

NHL announces blank COVID protocol-related absences list

  NHL announces blank COVID protocol-related absences list The long-awaited day has finally arrived. When the NHL released it’s COVID Protocol Related Absences list on Monday evening, it contained no names. It is the first time since the list originally debuted at the start of the regular season that the contents has been empty. Granted, the list now only includes the 14 active playoff teams as opposed to all 31 clubs, but it still marks a major achievement in the league’s battle against the Coronavirus. © Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports Of course, the final step toward a league-wide clean bill of health actually came with the elimination of the St. Louis Blues on Sunday.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: CDC's new guidance for fully vaccinated people is not 'out of the blue'

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