In Leaked Audio, CDC’s Rochelle Walensky Privately Confirms She Won’t Relax School Mask Guidance

According to an audio recording taken at a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee meeting, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has no plans to alter their recommendation that U.S. schools force students to use masks. Reason.

On the recording, Rochelle Walensky (CDC Director) can be heard saying “The CDC provides direction.” “We currently believe that all schools should have masking.”

This briefing was hosted by the Energy and Commerce subcommittee of Oversight and Investigations. It took place virtually in real time on Tuesday and included Walensky and Anthony Fauci White House COVID-19 advisor, and Dawn O’Connell Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Walensky faced criticism—from members in both parties—that the CDC’s guidance is confusing and out-of-step with human behavior at this stage of the pandemic. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R–Wash.Walensky was challenged by Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) about Walensky’s science behind school mask requirements. She pointed out that an Arizona study that had been cited as support by the CDC to mask children has been completely debunked. Atlantic.

McMorris rodgers said that the U.S.’s “outlier” is what relates to the “mask mandate” for their children to attend school.[The World Health Organization and UNICEF]They both advised that masking should not be used for children younger than five as it will cause more harm then good. They recommend that children aged six to eleven years should consider learning and social developmental factors. I have one question for Dr. Walensky today. Will you agree to revise your guidance by Friday in order to let children see you face-to-face without having to wear masks?”

Walensky did not make any commitment regarding a timeline for the elimination of school mask mandates. While acknowledging the limitations of the Arizona study and the other studies that the CDC relied on to provide guidance, she refused any immediate changes regarding masking in schools.

She said that all schools have their limitations and she is not randomly assigning them. We must control for ventilation and windows outside these schools. These studies all have their limitations. They do, however, all point to the fact that masks prevent the spread of diseases and that schools can be kept open when they’re infected.

Rep. Gary Palmer (R–Ala.) Walensky was also asked how Walensky could justify the agency’s school concealing guidance.

He asked, “Explain why school districts should continue to impose a mandate to children with masks.”

In response, Walensky defended the agency’s current guidance, but also noted—perhaps with some frustration—that local jurisdictions were free to disregard it.

She said that she would also add, “Guidance does not constitute guidance. All of these decisions, as we have continued to state, must be made at the local level.” We have given our guidance to local authorities as the cases fall dramatically.”

Given that many coronavirus-cautious jurisdictions are seemingly waiting for the CDC’s permission to relax masking requirements—in schools, especially—this answer prompted some outrage.

Palmer stated, “That is unacceptable.”

It wasn’t just the Republicans; Rep. Anna Eshoo (D–Calif.) It was a matter of considerable surprise that the CDC couldn’t be clearer on what level of caution is still appropriate.

“You hear it.” There is confusionEshoo said, “Over and over again.” Here’s another for you. Masking. Do you know the place I reside in Silicon Valley’s Bay Area? Schools, cities and towns are all different. It’s also an area with a lot of education. Trust our public health professionals here. My first question, and second point, to you Dr. Walensky. Why do we need to go on two separate tracks? Aren’t we able to reach a consensus in public health about this?

Walensky replied by citing the national figures—170,000 cases per day, 2,200 deaths per day, etc.—and was immediately cut off by Eshoo.

The national figures are not representative of the current state. Can you please take this into account when giving me an answer? said Eshoo.

“Absolutely,” said Walensky. All of these decisions need to be made at the level of each jurisdiction. Not only must we provide national data but also have to give them to the jurisdictional levels. We know we can ask jurisdictions for information about their specific context, their hospital performance, their death rates, etc. This is what I believe is taking place across the country, in a gradual manner. There are many policies being implemented. Some say they will remove masks. Some say they remove masks at month’s end. Some claim we are removing masks at end of month but this is not true for schools. So this really is taking place at the local level. What we recommend is that we leave the masks as they are, given where we stand for cases right now.

Eshoo responded skeptically to claims that many people checked the CDC site in an effort to find out what policies merited based only on local statistics.

Eshoo stated that he thinks that the confusion is confusing and that it damages CDC credibility. Credibility is the key to this. What are you going be paying attention to? It’s troubling. The CDC is being referred to as if all local health departments, and other public officials aren’t paying enough attention. It seems that way to me. That’s it? This is how it looks. It sounds that way. So, I’m not sure. So what should I say to my constituents. You can check out their website. “I don’t believe that is a valid answer.

Democratic and Republican Committee members asked the government health advisors questions on many other topics, such as whether fourth booster shots were approved, availability of therapeutics and whether COVID-19 could have emerged in a lab. Republicans grilled Fauci regarding the National Institute for Health Grant that supported Wuhan coronavirus-related research with the same intensity as they do in public. Rep. John Joyce (R–Penn.) Walensky asked Walensky questions about the CDC’s inability to consider immunity from a prior infection legitimately protected. According to recent evidence, natural immunity could be counted as fulfilling the federal vaccine requirement.

Joyce stated that during the Delta surge, cases rates of those with previous infections and no vaccine were significantly lower than for those who were vaccinated. The pattern was similar in the hospital rates. The findings are encouraging. Will the CDC update its guidance to recognise the benefits of natural immunity in light of these results? Will you also advocate for the modification of this guidance? [Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services]You have pointed out that health workers are subject to a vaccine mandate. Natural immunity is recognized as meeting the requirement. This will help ease pressures on healthcare staffing in the United States.

Walensky did not indicate that she supported this change.

She said, “Thanks for asking that question. We appreciate your recognition of our work. We are trying to understand how infection and immunity affect each other.” The report was published in [Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report]We published scientific proof late last year that analyzed dozens of papers to show the significance and impact of infection-induced immune system. The report had two major limitations. They were not done during the Delta surge. The data collected were all done during the delta surge. They did not capture omicron. This is a condition that requires greater immunity. They also did not include the time period when boosters were made available. The vaccines were likely to have been declining and people weren’t necessarily current with the latest vaccines.

Walensky did mention school-masking in her speech at the White House that day. But, she also indicated that the CDC would like to provide more flexibility in guidance regarding masking. So far, however, she has given no indication that any update to the guidance would apply to kids in schools—and even behind closed doors, she has reiterated the agency’s position that all schools should have mask mandates.