Health

CNN Medical Analyst Says Mask Mandate Should End Because ‘Science Has Changed.’ But Has It?

(Screenshot/CNN)

Dylan Housman Healthcare Reporter
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CNN medical analyst Dr. Leana Wen said Monday that mask mandates should end because the “science has changed,” but most of the data she cited as justification has been available for months, if not years.

Wen, formerly the head of Planned Parenthood, argued on “Anderson Cooper 360” that the decision to mask should now be on individuals and families, rather than government entities. She cited the fact that vaccines protect well against the Omicron variant of COVID-19 and the protection offered by high-quality masks to the wearer as the reasoning for the shift.

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However, none of that information is new. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its guidance a month ago to reflect that cloth masks provide little protection against the spread of the Omicron variant. Wen herself said back in December that a cloth mask wasn’t “going to cut it,” and the CDC has acknowledged since early last year that respirators offer protection to the wearer, making the argument that masks must be worn for the protection of those around the wearer obsolete.

Even as early as August 2021, a top Biden COVID-19 advisor admitted that cloth masks don’t do much to stop the spread of COVID-19.

As for vaccines and Omicron, there was never substantial data that suggested that vaccines did not provide close to 100% protection against hospitalization and death against the new strain, as they do against every other variant. There was only speculation that Omicron may be evasive of vaccines in the earliest days of its emergence, and that speculation pushed some politicians to reinstate restrictions like mask mandates before all the science was available.

Over time it became clear that Omicron was more contagious than prior variants, and that it was more likely a vaccinated person could become infected than before. But it also became clear that Omicron was a milder variant less likely to cause serious illness or death. (RELATED: Could Omicron Finally ‘Shut Down The Virus?’ These Experts Say Yes)

What has changed are both the political and public health circumstances. As Wen acknowledges, a major driver of the end of mask mandates is the fact that cases are declining rapidly, with deaths and hospitalizations beginning to follow. National case levels are roughly one-third of what they were less than a month ago. Deaths have flattened and begun a slight decline over the last two weeks, and hospitalizations are seeing a nose-dive as well, according to the CDC.

The public’s attitude toward COVID-19 has seen a shift as well. In mid-January, Americans’ approval rating of President Joe Biden’s handling of the pandemic dipped underwater for the first time, according to FiveThirtyEight. Just 38% of independents approve of his performance on the issue, compared to a peak of about 60% in the early months of his presidency.

FiveThirtyEight tracking also shows that fewer Americans are “very worried” about getting infected with COVID-19 than at any point since the pandemic began, and the portion that is “not at all” worried is ticking up after being essentially flat since August 2020.

A majority of Americans support either fully reopening society with no restrictions in place or moving toward reopening with some precautions in place, according to a new Axios-Ipsos poll released Tuesday and conducted Feb. 4-7. That poll also found that fewer and fewer parents are concerned about sending their child to school or daycare, and independents are almost twice as likely to support moving toward reopening than Democrats, at 52% vs. 28%.

Perhaps most critically, Americans’ attitudes aren’t shifting because they believe COVID-19 is going to disappear. Axios-Ipsos found that 64% believe the U.S. will not eradicate the virus within the next year. (RELATED: Students Should Mask Forever, Administrator At One Of Country’s Largest School Districts Suggests)

Ahead of a midterm that appears likely to go poorly for them, based on most polling and projections, Democrats are beginning to drop mask mandates.