As fully vaccinated populations navigate new federal guidance dropping mask use and physical distancing indoors and outdoors in most settings, top officials with the White House COVID-19 Response Team say some lingering fears are rational, and the recommendations will take some getting used to.
A reporter questioned Drs. Anthony Fauci and Rochelle Walensky, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about their guidance for individuals who were following mask mandates and avoiding crowds for the last year and who now face some “lingering fears” in laxing these measures. CBS’ Steve Portnoy based his question on an event involving nearly 70 fully vaccinated people in the East Room in the White House on Thursday, adding, “some said on social media that the site made them nervous.” He suggested some fully vaccinated individuals might not be “psychologically ready” to partake in activities now deemed safe by the health agency.
“I would say that fears like that are not irrational,” Fauci said. “It’s understandable when you’re used to a certain type of behavior, and then when the science says that you can actually turn around that…You can understand when people have been following a certain trend for a considerable period of time, that it may take time for them to adjust.”
Walensky said the agency has acknowledged that Americans will have to move at their own pace.
“When we released our guidelines and the science said it was safe to do so, we also acknowledged that not everybody is going to feel like it’s time to rip off their masks,” she said. “For 16 months we’ve been saying that it’s important to wear these masks to protect yourselves…it’s going to be hard to get back to life as we knew it without these masks and we’re going to do so dipping our toe in the water and having everybody move at their own pace.”
“We specifically have acknowledged that if you are vaccinated there is no shame, no problem in continuing to wear your mask and just like it has been hard to have everybody get masks, I think this is going to take some time for us all to get used to.”
Federal data indicates that over 160 million Americans have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose, or nearly half of the entire population, with 126.6 million Americans fully vaccinated, over 38%. Walensky noted “encouraging” national trends on declining infections, hospitalizations and deaths. The country just logged its second consecutive day with a seven-day average of daily infections below the 30,000 mark, a level not seen since June 2020.
The seven-day average of hospital admissions is just above 3,400, a decrease of 15% compared to the week prior. Related figures for deaths also show declines, hitting a new low of 498 deaths per day.
“As each week passes and we continue to see progress, these data give me hope,” Walensky said.