Tapper to COVID czar: Why is a fully vaccinated Biden still wearing a mask?

Good question. And it’s one that CNN’s Jake Tapper has been pursuing for at least a week, starting with Anita Dunn’s appearance on the previous edition of State of the Union. Yesterday, Tapper pushed Joe Biden’s COVID-19 response director Jeffrey Zients to explain why a fully vaccinated president still wears masks when meeting with other fully vaccinated people — such as the White House press corps, for example.

That’s a bit of a mixed message on vaccines, Tapper tells Zients, who doesn’t really have an answer. Pick it up at the four-minute mark:

TAPPER: Is it really necessary for a fully vaccinated person to wear a mask at a limited indoor gathering, if everyone there is vaccinated?

ZIENTS: Well, the CDC has given guidance that, when you’re with family and friends that are vaccinated in small groups, you don’t need a mask.

TAPPER: So, why does President Biden, in a room full of vaccinated journalists, with everybody in that room vaccinated, why does he need to wear a mask?

ZIENTS: The president is going to continue to follow the CDC guidance. We — it’s just a matter of a few weeks ago when all states made vaccines eligible for all Americans. So, there still are Americans who want to get vaccinated who may just have their first shot and are waiting for the for their second shot, or who haven’t had an opportunity yet to get their first shot. And we want those folks to get vaccinated. And the July 4 deadline is a really good — or goal — is a really good goal that the president has set of 70 percent of all Americans with at least their first shot by July 4.

TAPPER: Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb says that the CDC could consider lifting indoor mask mandates right now. And, in fact, he is suggesting that that will be a sign of confidence to show that everything is science-based and that there is an end of the tunnel. There’s…

ZIENTS: We’re going to look to the CDC. The president from day one has said we’re going to look for — we’re going to rely on science and facts. And that’s what we will do. The CDC has, across the last several weeks, given guidance for vaccinated people to do indoor gatherings with other vaccinated people, as I talked about earlier, to not wear masks outside, except when you’re in a very crowded place. And we look forward to further guidance from the CDC about what the advantages are of being vaccinated. What is clear is, anyone who’s not vaccinated should get vaccinated.

TAPPER: No, I agree. But I guess — I think one of the reasons why journalists are annoyingly harping on this and some health experts are is because there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and President Biden being able to take off his mask in a room full of journalists and White House staffers, all of whom are fully vaccinated, is a demonstration that the vaccines work.

You and I are both vaccinated, and you and I are in a room together talking, and I have no fear that I’m going to get the virus from you, and I assume vice versa. And I think the concern is that, by being overly cautious, the signal is going out to the public that there isn’t necessarily a light at the end of the tunnel. Do you understand why people are…

ZIENTS: Well, I think everyone is tired, and wearing a mask is — it can be a pain. But we’re getting there. And the light at the end of the tunnel is brighter and brighter. Let’s keep up our guard. Let’s follow the CDC guidance. And the CDC guidance across time will allow vaccinated people more and more privileges to take off that mask.

So what exactly does the CDC guidance have to say? Actually, it’s not all that easy to find out. The CDC prevention page doesn’t provide any guidance to vaccinated people and masks. Neither does their “masks” page, and the link on the page for the CDC’s call to wear masks takes readers to a page that hasn’t been updated since last July. Only by going to the CDC’s page for the fully vaccinated do you find out the benefits of getting the shot — other than immunity, of course.

The first three bullet points contradict Zients’ defense of Biden:

  • You can gather indoors with fully vaccinated people without wearing a mask or staying 6 feet apart.
  • You can gather indoors with unvaccinated people of any age from one other household (for example, visiting with relatives who all live together) without masks or staying 6 feet apart, unless any of those people or anyone they live with has an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
  • You can gather or conduct activities outdoors without wearing a mask except in certain crowded settings and venues.

Biden got his vaccination completed before assuming office four months ago. And yet he’s (a) masking up indoors when with other fully vaccinated people, (b) and staying six feet from them, and also (c) masking up outdoors. The latter makes no sense at all under this guidance unless Biden’s going to a rock concert. The visit with Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter provided a particular inept demonstration from the Bidens, who unmasked for an indoor photo op (with vaccinated but elderly friends) only to put their masks back on when they exited to the outdoors. How does any of that “follow the CDC guidance” as published by the CDC itself?

Tapper’s correct to keep pressing on this point until someone either comes up with an answer or the White House gets Biden to end the silly mask theater. If the Biden administration wants to build confidence in the vaccines, then they should be modeling the scientific reality of immunity and actually follow CDC guidance.