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CDC could ease coronavirus indoor mask guidance: Fauci, Gottlieb

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With over one-third of U.S. adults fully vaccinated against coronavirus and the seven-day average for new infections substantially down from winter-time peaks, Dr. Anthony Fauci and former FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb suggest it’s time to ease indoor mask guidance. 

While the CDC updated its mask guidance last month, advising fully vaccinated populations can go without masks outdoors except in crowded settings, the agency still says fully vaccinated people should wear masks indoors around unvaccinated people from multiple households, and in indoor public settings like movie theaters, malls, museums and restaurants. The agency also recently published a brief indicating small virus droplets can travel more than six feet under certain conditions, posing a risk for infection. 

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However, Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and chief medical adviser to President Biden, said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week” he believes Gottlieb is correct in saying the country could see a shift in indoor mask guidance, and the guidance should be more “liberal” as the vaccination drive continues.

“No I think so, I think you’re going to probably see that as we go along and as more people get vaccinated,” Fauci told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos. “The CDC will be, almost in real-time George, updating their recommendations and their guidelines. We do need to start being more liberal as we get more people vaccinated.”

“As you get more people vaccinated, the number of cases per day will absolutely go down. We’re averaging about 43,000 a day, we’ve got to get it much, much lower than that. When that gets lower, the risk of any infection indoor or outdoor diminishes dramatically,” he said. 

The CDC did not respond to Fox News’ request for comment Monday morning.

In a separate interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Fauci suggested people could opt to don masks seasonally to tamp down on the flu.

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“It is conceivable that as we go on a year or two or more from now, that during certain seasonal periods when you have respiratory borne viruses like the flu, people might actually elect to wear masks to diminish the likelihood that you’ll spread these respiratory borne diseases.”

Jeffrey Zients, the White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator, during an interview Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union,” was more conservative in his response. The outlet’s Jake Tapper noted growing frustrations among “journalists and some health experts” that “overly cautious” mask guidance could undermine confidence in “a light at the end of the tunnel.”

“I think everyone is tired, and wearing a mask can be a pain but we’re getting there and the light at the end of the tunnel is brighter and brighter,” Zients said. “Let’s keep up our guard, let’s follow the CDC guidance. And the CDC guidance across time will allow vaccinated people more and more privileges to take off that mask.”

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Meanwhile, Gottlieb told CBS’ “Face the Nation” Sunday that vaccinations and immunity from prior COVID-19 infection will “substantially” drive down risks of COVID-19.

“We’re at the point right now where we can start lifting these ordinances and allowing people to resume normal activity, certainly outdoors we shouldn’t be putting limits on gatherings anymore, we should be encouraging people to go outside,” Gottlieb said. “In the states where prevalence is low, vaccination rates are high and we have good testing in place and we’re identifying infections, I think we can start lifting these restrictions indoors as well on a broad basis.”

Gottlieb told CNBC’s Shepard Smith last week that a lifting of CDC indoor mask mandates now amid improved case counts would help “preserve the credibility of public health officials” if the provisions need to be re-introduced during winter-time outbreaks.

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