Former surgeon general: CDC should fix ‘premature, misinterpreted’ mask guidance

As COVID-19 cases continue to climb amid the spread of the highly contagious delta variant, Dr. Jerome Adams — former surgeon general during the Trump administration — says the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention needs to rethink its current mask guidance.

The former surgeon general, who once advised against mask-wearing, opened up on social media earlier this week, admitting his regret about the early guidance in spring 2020. 

"Last year Tony Fauci and I famously, prematurely, & wrongly advised against masks. I felt it was the best call at the time, but now regret it," Adams wrote on social media.

Now, he said he fears the CDC also made a similar mistake and gave "harmful" guidance on masking by dropping mask recommendations for vaccinated people.

"I’m worried the CDC also made a similarly premature, misinterpreted, yet still harmful call on masking in the face of delta variant," Adams said.

He said new, updated guidance should require more vaccinated Americans to mask up in areas where cases and deaths are rising.

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"Instead of vax it OR mask it, the emerging data suggests CDC should be advising to vax it AND mask it in areas with cases and positivity- until we see numbers going back down again. CDC was well intended, but the message was misinterpreted, premature, & wrong. Let’s fix it," Adams wrote.


The former surgeon general noted counties, such as Los Angeles County, that have recently issued their own guidance that is in direct conflict with the CDC’s current mask guidance.

Adams told NPR Tuesday that the messaging "has just absolutely, unequivocally failed."

"More people than ever — vaccinated and unvaccinated — are going maskless," he said. "It doesn't seem to have convinced anyone to get vaccinated," Adams told NPR.

The delta variant — which is more than 200% more transmissible than the original coronavirus — is pushing cases up in the United States. 

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During a White House press briefing last week, Dr. Rochelle Walensky said cases in the U.S. were up about 70% over the last week, hospital admissions were up 36% and deaths rose by 26%.

"There’s a clear message that is coming through: this is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated," Walensky said. "We are seeing outbreaks of cases in parts of the country that have low vaccination coverage because unvaccinated people are at risk. And communities that are fully vaccinated are generally faring well."

RELATED: COVID-19 becoming ‘pandemic of the unvaccinated’, CDC director says

An Associated Press analysis of available government data from May showed that "breakthrough" infections in fully vaccinated people accounted for fewer than 1,200 of more than 853,000 COVID-19 hospitalizations. That’s about 0.1%.

While the CDC initially tracked all breakthrough infections, the agency shifted to only tracking those linked to hospitalization or death in May, leading to some confusion over how many breakthrough cases are actually contributing the rise in COVID-19 infections. 

Dr. Jay Butler, head of the COVID-19 response at the CDC, said during a briefing with the Infectious Diseases Society of America last week that the vast majority of these breakthrough cases "tend to be milder."

As of July 12, 2021, more than 159 million people in the United States had been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. During the same time, CDC received reports from 48 U.S. states and territories of 5,492 patients with COVID-19 vaccine breakthrough infections who were hospitalized or died.

This story was reported from Los Angeles.