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Letter: CDC’s Updated Mask Guidance Was Premature, Process Dangerously Inadequate

WASHINGTON, D.C.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) should have consulted with affected stakeholders before issuing last week’s updated mask-wearing guidance, which has caused widespread confusion across the U.S., Public Citizen said today in a letter to the agency.

The letter, addressed to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and CDC Director Rochelle P. Walensky, criticizes the agency for failing to engage in a transparent, consultative process with state and local public health officials, occupational health and safety experts, labor unions, teachers and others particularly affected by the revised guidance.

With only slightly more than 1-in-3 Americans fully vaccinated for COVID-19 and many unvaccinated people already refusing to wear masks, the abrupt relaxation of the CDC’s guidelines on mask-wearing is premature, violates the precautionary principle of public health, and may lead to another surge in infections in many communities, Public Citizen told the agency.

“It is inexcusable that the CDC made such a consequential public health decision without engaging the wide array of affected stakeholders and members of the public,” said Dr. Michael Carome, director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group and author of the letter. “There clearly was no urgent need for the CDC to abruptly loosen its current mask-wearing guidelines now.”

Public Citizen’s letter contends that at a minimum, the CDC should have consulted with one of its standing advisory committees — such as the Board of Scientific Counselors, Deputy Director for Infectious Diseases — to discuss and make recommendations regarding the revisions to the guidelines that were being considered by the agency. Doing so would have ensured that the CDC fully understood the potential ramifications of these changes, helped rebuild public confidence in the agency, and avoided the widespread confusion that has ensued since late last week.

Public Citizen’s letter also urges the agency to convene a CDC advisory committee to reconsider the recent changes to the agency’s guidelines on mask-wearing for people who are fully vaccinated, as well as before making any future major decision about loosening guidelines on key public health measures that have been critical to containing the pandemic.

Read the full letter here.