(NEXSTAR) — Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious diseases expert, said in an interview Wednesday that some Americans don’t fully understand the latest federal guidance on mask-wearing.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week said people who are fully vaccinated no longer need to wear a mask indoors or outdoors and can stop social distancing in most places.
“I think people are misinterpreting, thinking that this is a removal of a mask mandate for everyone. It’s not,” Fauci told Axios. “It’s an assurance to those who are vaccinated that they can feel safe, be they outdoors or indoors.”
But Fauci said he doesn’t blame people for not understanding. “It’s not their fault,” he said. “People either read them quickly or listen and hear half of it.”
Fauci clarified the guidelines, citing that the CDC said fully vaccinated people “can feel safe — that you will not get infected either outdoors or indoors” when going maskless, not that unvaccinated people should ditch their face coverings.
Fully vaccinated means two weeks after the second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, or two weeks after the one-dose Johnson & Johnson shot.
Since the latest CDC guidelines were announced, concerns have been raised from those who say there’s no easy way for businesses and others to determine who is fully vaccinated and who is not.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky on Sunday defended the decision to ease mask-wearing guidance for fully vaccinated people, stressing that increasing political pressure had nothing to do with the abrupt shift in guidelines.
“I’m delivering the science as the science is delivered to the medical journals. And it evolved,” Walensky said on FOX News Sunday. “I deliver it as soon as I can when we have that information available.”
Many states and communities have already been lifting mask mandates amid improving virus numbers and as more Americans have been shedding face coverings after getting shots.
“I would imagine within a period of just a couple of weeks, you’re going to start to see significant clarification of some of the actually understandable and reasonable questions that people are asking,” Fauci said on Face the Nation.
The CDC’s new guidance does not have specific advice for parents with unvaccinated kids 12 and under in their households. There aren’t any vaccines currently approved for that age group in the United States, which means the younger set needs to keep masking for the time being.
The CDC says everyone — vaccinated or unvaccinated — should continue to wear a mask in certain places. Masks are still required on public transportation — buses, trains and planes — and in other settings like hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters.
According to the CDC, more than 124 million Americans — 37% of the population — are fully vaccinated against coronavirus, and more than 158 million, or 47%, have received at least one dose.