Did the CDC lift mask guidelines "out of the blue with no solid explanation"? No, that's not true: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revised the rules to allow fully vaccinated individuals to stop wearing masks outdoors and in many indoor settings on May 13, 2021, after COVID-19 case numbers had dropped significantly, more people were getting vaccinated and the coronavirus response was improving.
The claim appeared as a Facebook post (archived here) on May 16, 2021. It opened:
I've been screaming this more than a year.
This is what the post looked like on Facebook at the time of writing:
(Source: Facebook screenshot taken on Fri May 21 21:34:58 2021 UTC)
The post was a screenshot of a tweet by conservative radio talk show host Jesse Kelly posted on May 15, 2021.
You guys do know that the CDC lifting those guidelines out of the blue with no solid explanation proves they lied to you the whole time about everything, right?-- Jesse Kelly (@JesseKellyDC) May 15, 2021
Just want to make sure everyone has processed that correctly.
At a news conference on May 13, 2021, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky explained what the new guidelines were. Her remarks are at 12:58 in the video:
Today, CDC is updating our guidelines for fully vaccinated people. Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities, large or small, without wearing a mask or physical distancing. If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic. We have all longed for this moment, when we can get back to some sense of normalcy.
The CDC released the Interim Public Health Recommendations for Fully Vaccinated People on the same day:
Dr. Amesh A. Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told Lead Stories via email on May 21, 2021, that the decision was not "out of the blue."
The CDC guidance on masks was actually lagging so many of us in the field actually knew based on the accumulating data. It didn't come out of the blue but was overdue.
Dr. Rita Burke, epidemiologist and assistant professor of clinical preventive medicine at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine, explained to Lead Stories why the guidelines were not relaxed "out of the blue" via telephone on May 28, 2021:
It's really based on the science and based on the evidence. We know now if you have been vaccinated you are not at risk of critical illness. There is no need to wear a mask indoors and outdoors.
People need to remember these are recommendations. This is a big change of how we have been behaving for the last 14 months. If people feel more comfortable wearing a mask that is OK. This is very much a personal decision.
There is going to be lots of anxiety and concern involved as we move back into our normal world.
There has been sustained decrease in the number of cases and sustained decreases in the number of deaths and it is a continued decrease.
When we were asked to stay at home, we were concerned hospitals were going to be constrained to the point of collapse. Now, hospitals are not at capacity, they are not seeing an increase in admission, that tells us the vaccines are working. They're protecting people from critical illness and hospital admission.
The problem has been the communication from public health to the public. COVID-19 is a new virus covid. As we learn more almost on a daily basis that has been really really challenging. As we learn new things about the virus our communication in a clear and timely matter has been a challenge. We need to do a better job of explaining the why of it.
When the announcement was made, the CDC was reporting a drop in new cases of coronavirus. "The CDC reported about 34,200 new cases Wednesday, a 23% decrease since Sunday. The seven-day average of hospital admissions also decreased about 12% from the previous seven-day average," USA Today reported on May 13, 2021.
And Andy Slavitt, the White House coronavirus response senior adviser, said at 5:10 in the video of the press conference on May 13, 2021, there was a 45% drop in cases since April 19, 2021, when every American over 16 became vaccine-eligible.