Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) made numerous Sunday show appearances this week, where she dodged questions on vaccine mandates and when children can stop having to wear masks in school.
While on NBC's "Meet the Press," Dr. Walensky was asked by host Andrea Mitchell about masking at school once children have been vaccinated:
What is your advice to parents and to schools regarding lifting mask mandates in schools once children are vaccinated?
DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY:
You know, our case numbers are coming down, and that is so encouraging. We still have 75,000 new cases a day of Covid, and we are still having death rates of about 1,200 to 1,500 deaths per day. As we roll out these vaccines for our children, and we are hopeful that we will be able to, it's also critically important that our kids are able to stay in school. We saw just a couple of weeks ago new science that demonstrated that schools that masked had three and a half times less likelihood of having outbreaks than schools that didn't. And so in my mind, the most important thing right now as we work to get our cases down, as we work to get our children vaccinated, is that we continue the masking to keep our kids in school.
Walensky and Mitchell had just been discussing how there will be an FDA advisory on Tuesday when it comes to vaccinating children ages 5-11 years old.
Such a non-answer is particularly troubling and disappointing because she had been given an opportunity to clarify her remarks from last Wednesday, but refused to take it. As Katie reported, Dr. Walenksy during a press briefing gave a disturbing directive that children will still need to wear masks at school.
"After we have authorization from FDA and recommendations from CDC, we will be working to scale up pediatric vaccination. That said, it will take some time. And as I just noted, as we head into these winter months, we know we cannot be complacent," the director said. "We are going to continue to recommend masks in all schools for all people in those schools, and we will look forward to scaling up pediatric vaccination during this period of time."
The following day, Katie also covered remarks from Florida Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo, who said the data that children need to be masked is "very weak," saying that it is so weak "is a fact."
Gov. Ron DeSantis' (R-FL) executive order against schools issuing mask mandates is tied up in the courts, though a judge is set to decide soon. Schools are considering easing their mask mandates as cases drop, which they have been doing significantly in Florida.
The governor had issued his executive order in late July after consulting with experts in the field.
Mitchell also asked Walensky "did you move too soon on that? Was that a mistake?" with regards to telling people last May that they are safe if they're not wearing a mask and have been vaccinated. The direct provided another non-answer:
You know, that was at a time of the Alpha variant when vaccinated people if they were a breakthrough infection could not transmit the Alpha variant to someone else. This is really an opportunity to understand that we have to be humble with the science and to move with the science. As we have learned with this Delta variant, it's a different variant, it's a more transmissible variant, and it behaves differently in the context of breakthrough infection. So at the time, that's what the science told us we could do. We are in a very different moment with a very different variant.
It's not just Dr. Lapado who is concerned with masking children. As Emily DeCiccio reported for CNBC, Dr. Joseph Allen, who is an associate professor at Harvard University, during a Friday appearance on "The News with Shepard Smith" urged an easing of mask mandates for children.
As DeCiccio wrote:
“We have to be careful that, if we don’t set firm deadlines, it’s easy to see how we can sleepwalk into indefinite masking,” said Allen during a Friday evening interview on CNBC’s “The News with Shepard Smith.” “With the approval of vaccines, expected very shortly, for 5 to 11-year-olds, it makes sense that we should no longer have mask mandates in schools.”
Allen also highlighted that while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has set metrics for masking for adults, the agency has “inexplicably” failed to set metrics on when kids can take away masks.
The CDC did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.
Dr. Allen does believe the best way to protect children from the virus is by vaccinating them, as well as adults, and is in favor of vaccine mandates for teachers. "We should be mandating vaccines for all adults in schools," he said.
While on "Fox News Sunday," Dr. Walensky was asked by host Chris Wallace if she was "still full speed ahead on mandates for essential workers to get vaccinated." She refused to directly answer, though:
We have seen that these mandates are getting more and more people vaccinated. Here's what we know. The most disruptive thing that you can do to a workforce is to have a covert outbreak and not workforce. That was definitely not only send people home but send people to the hospital and some may pass. What we know from the police workforce is there have been more deaths from the coronavirus over the last year and a half than all other causes of death for that workforce combined. So we believe it is very important to get these people vaccinated. There is a plan, should these people not want to be vaccinated, towards education and counseling to get people the information they need so that they are feeling comfortable in getting vaccinated.
President Joe Biden last month signed an executive order mandating federal workers be vaccinated.