While Democratic governors have begun to join their Republican counterparts in lifting mask mandates across the US, the White House held back from endorsing that decision on Wednesday, instead urging Americans to keep following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and mask up indoors.
Press secretary Jen Psaki was repeatedly asked during her regular briefing about what Americans should do in states where mandates are being lifted while the CDC still recommends mask-wearing in areas of “substantial” or “high” transmission – which is currently the case in 99.4 percent of counties in America.
“If you are a parent, a teacher, a student living in a state where [masking] is no longer recommended, should you still follow the CDC guidelines?” one reporter asked.
“Yes,” Psaki simply said.
“So even if the state is not requiring that you wear masks in the schools?” the reporter clarified.
“This is where we would advise any American to follow the CDC guidelines,” Psaki responded.
Democratic Govs. Kathy Hochul of New York, Phil Murphy of New Jersey and Ned Lamont of Connecticut are among state executives who have recently announced they will be lifting or modifying mask requirements.
“Can you blame Americans for being confused and frustrated and having no idea who they should be listening to right now?” one reporter asked Psaki.
“Well, our guidance is consistently – has consistently been this: When you are in a high transmission area, which is everywhere in the country, you should wear a mask in indoor settings, including schools,” Psaki said.
“Does the CDC run the risk of becoming irrelevant in the minds of many Americans, given that their states are moving along without them?” the same reporter followed up.
“I don’t think the federal experts on health and medical advice should be irrelevant to Americans at a time where we’re still facing a pandemic,” the press secretary insisted.
When pressed about whether the administration is concerned the lifting of mandates could lead to a COVID-19 outbreak in schools, Psaki again urged people to follow CDC guidance.
“Our focus continues to be to recommend everyone follow CDC guidance, right? And we know that wearing masks effectively reduces transmission, as much as people are understandably tired of wearing masks,” she said.
In the past, the White House has publicly criticized states and their governors, such as Republican Ron DeSantis in Florida, for ignoring the CDC guidance.
Last July, DeSantis attempted to bar schools from implementing mask mandates and allow parents to make the ultimate decision about whether their kids should wear face coverings, an effort that was ultimately successful after an appeals court ruling.
“Why are we not hearing the same messaging, criticizing states that are, you know, making these moves like we heard previously, with, for instance, Ron DeSantis?” Fox News correspondent Jacqui Heinrich asked on Wednesday.
“Well, I would say there is a distinct difference between standing in the way, which Ron DeSantis did – or Gov. DeSantis, given his full title – of teachers, school administrators and others taking steps to protect the students in their school communities,” Psaki responded. “There’s a difference between standing in the way of it, threatening to pull back funding, and allowing for local school districts to make choices, which is what a number of these states are doing.”
While urging Americans to follow CDC guidelines, Psaki repeatedly emphasized that the White House will continue to rely on federal health officials, despite some public health experts urging otherwise.
“There are a range of health and medical experts who advise the President and make determinations about how the CDC guidance will be changed, but that is what we rely on,” she said.