As more and more Americans get vaccinated against COVID-19, former FDA chief Dr. Scott Gottlieb says it’s time for the CDC to start thinking about easing indoor mask mandates.
In an interview Thursday night with CNBC’s Shepard Smith, Gottlieb, who led the Food and Drug Administration from 2017-’19, said easing rules now will strengthen the CDC’s credibility later.
“I think we should start lifting these restrictions as aggressively as we put them in. We need to preserve the credibility of public health officials to perhaps reimplement some of these provisions as we get into next winter, if we do start seeing outbreaks again.”
“The only way to earn public credibility is to demonstrate that you’re willing to relax these provisions as the situation improves,” he added.
While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last month said it’s generally safe for fully vaccinated people to walk and gather outdoors without masks, it still says masks should be worn by both fully vaccinated and unvaccinated people for virtually any indoor activity outside of the home. Public health experts say the risks for transmission of COVID-19 are much higher indoors, so masking up is still a good precaution.
Gottlieb said “overall the picture looks very good around the country,” noting that even as vaccination demand is slowing, “we’re still going to continue to chip away at getting more people vaccinated” as the effort shifts to making vaccines more convenient to those who haven’t gotten them yet. “But I think that these gains are locked in, and the summer looks very good.”
The positive test rate for COVID-19 is at a pandemic-low of 3.6%, and about 150 American adults have so far received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to a Washington Post tally — about 45% of the total U.S. population. That’s still a far cry from the 70% to 85% of the population being protected from transmission that is needed to have herd immunity, a goal that even Dr. Anthony Fauci has called “elusive.”
To date, the U.S. has had 32.6 million coronavirus cases, and more than 580,000 deaths, both the most in the world, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.