President Biden on Tuesday called for patience after leaving Americans confused about whether to continue wearing masks amid CDC guidance that vaccinated people have no reason to continue wearing the COVID-19 shields.
Biden has been erratic in his embrace of the CDC’s pivot, drawing ridicule from critics who say Democrats hypocritically accused them of not following science during the pandemic.
The president noted tensions over the issue as residents of some major cities, such as Washington, DC, largely flout the new CDC advice and continue wearing masks on empty sidewalks — even though about 41 percent of US adults are fully vaccinated and 56 percent have had at least one shot.
“The good news is that last week the CDC said that vaccinated people do not need to wear their masks outside unless they’re in very crowded settings like a sporting event,” Biden said at a White House event.
“And if we can continue to drive vaccinations up and case loads down, we’ll need our masks even less and less.”
Biden added: “It will take time to get everyone back to, everything back to normal. You know we’re all going to have to be patient with one another. Masks have needlessly divided this country. Masking as directed is a patriotic duty, but so too is treating each other with respect and patience.”
Although scientific research has long indicated that outdoor transmission of COVID-19 is rare, the CDC was slow to change its policy to reflect that. The CDC also was slow to encourage people to wear masks, claiming last year they didn’t protect against the airborne virus — despite East Asian countries crediting the early adoption of masks with dramatically slowing transmission.
Biden and first lady Jill Biden, who both are fully vaccinated, continued to wear masks last week in instances where they did not need to after the CDC changed course.
The president stood masked on a largely empty rally stage Thursday evening near Atlanta as his wife introduced him. The first lady helped plant a tree on the White House lawn Friday while masked.
Biden defended himself in an interview that aired Friday on NBC News, saying that although it may seem he’s sending mixed messages, he’s actually being sensible because there’s a chance an infected person could approach him.
“The likelihood of my being able to be outside and people not come up to me is not very, very high,” Biden said.
Two-dose vaccines developed by Moderna and by Pfizer-BioNTech are about 95 percent effective, according to clinical trials. A one-dose vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson is 66 percent effective in preventing moderate to severe illness and 85 percent effective in preventing severe disease.