Fauci: "If you're vaccinated and you're outside, put aside your mask"

What’s gotten into him? A few days ago he told ABC that it was time to think about lifting indoor mask mandates, not just outdoor ones. Within the past 24 hours he’s told two national TV hosts that it’s time to “transition” and start tearing off the masks outdoors (unless you find yourself for some reason in a very densely packed crowd).

Could be he’s just recalibrating the need for precautions in light of the increasingly encouraging COVID data, but that wouldn’t be like him. He’s said all along that he’s eyeing 10,000 cases per day as the benchmark in which we return to full normalcy and we’re nowhere near that yet. Did the feds maybe get some data showing that the relentlessly hypercautious messaging from their science bureaucrats was turning vaccine holdouts off from getting their shots?

Did they notice this survey result, maybe?

“When you go outside, almost any circumstance you don’t need to wear masks except if you’re in a very, very crowded place,” Fauci told MSNBC last night. This morning he reiterated that point on CBS:

Another possibility for why he’s pushing harder on relaxing precautions is that he’s trying to counterprogram the CDC, which is suddenly taking fire from all directions for being too cautious. Both Shep Smith and Chris Cuomo pressed Rochelle Walensky yesterday in interviews about why the agency seems to be chronically a step behind other experts in encouraging vaccinated Americans to reclaim their lives.

SMITH: But isn’t it true doctor – and forgive the interruption – but isn’t it true that once you’re masked, the science shows that if you’re around others who are masked, you’re ok?

DR. WALENSKY: Once you’re vaccinated, yes?

SMITH: That is what I meant. Once we are all vaccinated, you know, it’s like, what do I get for being vaccinated? Can’t I take this off?

DR. WALENSKY: Right, so we were looking for signs to ensure that the vaccine works just as well in the real world setting as it did in the trials. We need to ensure that the vaccines are working against all of the circulating variants that we have here in the United States. We’re following that carefully. And then we need to make sure that you’re not an asymptomatic carrier, if in fact you’re vaccinated. So all of that science is emerging, that’s what we’re following and we will use to update our guidance.

There’ll always be new variants circulating, at least until most of the world is vaccinated, and that process will take years. Does she want vaccinated Americans to mask up until SARS-CoV-2 is eradicated? Which it probably won’t ever be?

Sanjay Gupta’s also losing patience with the CDC:

Gupta began by discussing school reopenings and said that “we could have probably opened schools, in some ways, based on the knowledge that we had, much earlier.”

After viewing the clip of Collins, Gupta stated, “It pains me to say this, but I see where she’s coming from — Sen. Collins — on this. I think for a long time, the concern was the CDC was providing guidance at the beginning of the pandemic that was not scientifically based. And as a result, we didn’t do things that we should have done in this country that could have greatly mitigated what has happened here. And now I think it’s almost a little bit of the reverse problem. The science is not necessarily being followed to the same extent. And as a result, we’re probably doing things that we don’t need to be doing. So, in the end, the CDC needs to be just a science-based organization. What does the science say? You don’t need to wear a mask outside. It’s just one of these things that, again, we’ve known this for some time.”

Maybe that’s what finally has Fauci easing up. It’s one thing for Tucker Carlson to complain that he’s overcautious, but when other doctors and friendly reporters are doing it, he has a messaging problem.

So masks are going away outdoors, at long, long last. They might be going away indoors soon too as cases continue to drop — but I saw this earlier today and it gives me pause:

I wrote about the surprising outbreak on the Yankees staff a few days ago, noting that it’s not the first time the virus has somehow spread among a group of fully vaccinated people. Another instance was the outbreak in a Kentucky nursing home in which 18 out of 75 vaccinated residents tested positive. How can that be happening if, per the CDC’s own data, “breakthrough infections” are only occurring in something like .01 percent of vaccinated people?

Some have pointed out that the Yankees staff was vaccinated with Johnson & Johnson, which was less effective in trials (72 percent) than the mRNA vaccines were (95 percent) at preventing infection. I’ll leave it to people who are better at math than I am to assess that point but intuitively it seems to me that we shouldn’t see seven cases within a group of a few dozen people in which more than 85 percent have been vaccinated. Not if breakthrough infections are happening at a rate of .01 percent, anyway. Others have pointed out that only one of the seven has symptoms, which means the vaccines did what they’re supposed to do. There’s no guarantee that a vaccinated person won’t get infected but there is (sort of) a guarantee that they’ll have an easy time of it or no symptoms at all if they are. And that’s what’s happening with the Yankees.

Which is true, and terrific. But that doesn’t address the point that we have a cluster of cases among a group of vaccinated people when infections are supposed to be happening in only one out of 10,000 or who’ve been immunized.

The CDC should say something about the Yankees situation since people are going to wonder. My guess, as I said earlier this week, is that many more vaccinated people than we know of are getting infected and having no symptoms thanks to the vaccine. Maybe the virus is sitting in their throats, capable of being detected by PCR tests, but unable to spread internally because an immunized person has sufficient antibodies to fend it off. If that’s what’s happening then, again, the vaccines are a success. They’re doing what they’re supposed to do, which is stopping people from getting sick. But it might also mean that vaxxed people are more contagious than we realize since they are, it seems, carrying the virus — and maybe giving it to others per the number of infections among the Yankees coaching staff, who are presumably often in close quarters with each other. Maybe there are thousands of infected but asymptomatic vaccinated people roaming around who are unknown to the CDC because, unlike sports teams and nursing homes where there’s been an infection, those people have no reason to get tested.

If that’s the conclusion the CDC ultimately reaches then we’re probably going to be asked to keep masking up indoors, vaccinated or not, at least until the number of cases locally drops to some very low level. Which means maybe Fauci’s going to start sounding like his usual old cautious self again soon. Stay tuned.