Cuomo Grills CDC Boss for Dragging Feet on Loosening Rules, Frames GOP as Villains

Instead of just admitting that Republicans and many other Americans had legitimate reasons to be frustrated with the CDC guidance on masks and whatnot for vaccinated people, and how they weren’t providing enough carrots, CNN Prime Time host Chris Cuomo used the former as a foil as he pressed CDC Administrator Dr. Rochelle Walensky in an interview on Wednesday.

“Doing the job too well, you’re playing it too safe, that is the criticism,” Cuomo suggested near the top of the interview. “That you need to be more generous in what people can do once they get vaccinated.” He then cited a study that supposedly referenced the hesitance of many Republicans:

There’s a UCLA study that is about Republicans, and if you tell them they can ditch the mask, it increases the likelihood they’ll get a shot from 35 percent to 53 percent. Given the science on the vaccines and its relative prophylaxis, why not make this move?

“We have the clinical trials, we need to make sure that it’s working outside the context of clinical trials in the same way.” Walensky explained. “We have to make sure that it does not lead to asymptomatic transmission that people are not — not able to get the disease and give to it somebody else even if they don’t have symptoms. That was not measured in the clinical trial.”

Cuomo followed up by calling out how the CDC had gotten some of the guidance wrong based on conflicting data:

Now it’s outdoor exposure. Could be 10 percent, the science really says one percent, you were very slow to go there. You’re playing it too safe, and there is a cost that comes with that. Is it a cost that we should have to pay?

In her response, Walensky listed off scenarios in which the vaccinated would still be forced to wear a mask. “Even if vaccinated? Why, when we see so few breakthrough cases,” Cuomo huffed.

Further, he gripped that the CDC’s too cautious approach gave Republicans a reason to criticize the President Biden and lockdown-happy Democrats:

The argument is simple. Too safe. Two arguments here. One is too safe. That causes time and delays. And also creates exposure on the political flank because now you have the right saying, “See, see? They go too slow, it wasn’t as bad as they said it was, about surfaces, about masks, about aerosols, about outdoor. They’ve been overplaying it the whole time, see, we were right.” That’s the political side.

“The practical side is that there’s so few breakthrough cases, we need people to get vaccinated, you need to give them more carrots, look at the science and say, the risk is almost de minimis, take the masks off, live your life, and let’s see who gets vaccinated,” he told her.

At one point, Cuomo wanted to know why the vaccinated still needed to wear masks at all (Click “expand” to read):

CUOMO: What data do you have that suggests you need to go slow before you let people completely unmask and live their lives if they’ve gotten the vaccine? I know you’re waiting for the data to say it’s safe, but what data do you have that says it’s unsafe?

WALENSKY: Well, you know, we know the data are emerging, have been emerging, with regard to the variants, specifically the UK variant, the Brazil variant, which is increasing here in the United States, the South Africa variant, now we have variants coming from India as well.

For his final question, Cuomo wanted to get to “the heart of the criticism” and noted that “people want to know the information, they want to make their own choices. How do you respond to that?” “My job is to keep individuals safe. My job is to keep populations safe,” Walensky defended herself. “And I really look forward to updating the guidance and providing the science that allows us to do so very soon.”

The transcript is below, click “expand” to read:

CNN’s Cuomo Prime Time
May 12, 2021
9:25:53 p.m. Eastern

(…)

CHRIS CUOMO: Doing the job too well, you’re playing it too safe, that is the criticism. That you need to be more generous in what people can do once they get vaccinated. There’s a UCLA study that is about Republicans, and if you tell them they can ditch the mask, it increases the likelihood they’ll get a shot from 35 percent to 53 percent. Given the science on the vaccines and its relative prophylaxis, why not make this move?

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY (CDC administrator): So, we have to evaluate the science in several different dimensions. We have to make sure that the effectiveness, how it works in the public, is exactly – is similar to how it’s working in the clinical trials. We have the clinical trials, we need to make sure that it’s working outside the context of clinical trials in the same way.

We have to make sure that it does not lead to asymptomatic transmission that people are not — not able to get the disease and give to it somebody else even if they don’t have symptoms. That was not measured in the clinical trial.

And importantly, we need to make sure they work against our variants. So, we now are sequencing over 30,000 virus samples per week. And in that we are finding an emergence of variants. We have over 72 percent of the UK variant here right now; of those sequences that are the UK variant and other variants as well. We need to make sure the vaccine is working against those variants.

So, it is all that evolving science that is going into our decisions about when to lift the mask mandates for vaccinated people. We have changed our guidance at least three times now, or three times now in the context of vaccine guidance, and in the vaccine rollout, and we’re looking forward to updating it again very soon.

CUOMO: You changed guidance. The argument against you is — I mean, the CDC. Some of this happened before you. For example, the WHO said, this is a pandemic, the CDC delayed. Not on your watch. Then it was about aerosols versus surfaces. And that was known, but it didn’t come out with guidance until much later, really until recently. Now it’s outdoor exposure. Could be 10 percent, the science really says one percent, you were very slow to go there. You’re playing it too safe, and there is a cost that comes with that. Is it a cost that we should have to pay?

WALENSKY: You know, I want to be very clear about that last piece, which I think was on my watch. So, the outdoor guidance. CDC as a matter of practice not only conducts its own science but reviews the medical literature. That 10 percent — and uses that medical literature to inform our guidance. That 10 percent was not a data point from the CDC, that 10 percent was a data point from the peer-reviewed literature, very well respected, high-impact infectious disease journal, The Journal of Infectious Diseases. It was that data point we used to inform our outdoor guidance.

Regardless, I think we should all be very clear, there’s a lot more transmission that is occurring indoors than outdoors. As that is what we used to inform our outdoor guidance that says, if you’re vaccinated and outdoors, you can take your mask off. If you’re not vaccinated and outdoors, first of all, get vaccinated. And second of all, if you’re spread out, that’s really fine. If you have a whole bunch of people piled on top of each other breathing heavily, probably not a good idea.

CUOMO: Even if vaccinated? Why, when we see so few breakthrough cases? Now, I’m not arguing the science, one, out of complete respect. I have no business talking science with you. But only the science as stated.

The argument is simple. Too safe. Two arguments here. One is too safe. That causes time and delays. And also creates exposure on the political flank because now you have the right saying, “See, see? They go too slow, it wasn’t as bad as they said it was, about surfaces, about masks, about aerosols, about outdoor. They’ve been overplaying it the whole time, see, we were right.” That’s the political side.

The practical side is that there’s so few breakthrough cases, we need people to get vaccinated, you need to give them more carrots, look at the science and say, the risk is almost de minimis, take the masks off, live your life, and let’s see who gets vaccinated.

WALENSKY: Right, your point is exactly where we are. We need to follow the science, which is emerging every single day, with regard to variants, with regard to transmissibility, with regard to protection. And then we need to follow our case rates to see — watch people get vaccinated, see how many people are getting vaccinated.

Our job is to protect not just individuals, our job is to protect populations as we have high levels of cases which are now coming down. And our job really is to find the sweet spot at the intersection of all of those. And I’m really looking forward to updating our guidance very soon.

CUOMO: Let’s do it right now on this show. Here’s why I say it almost in jest. You have the burden of the nonexistence effect. What data do you have that suggests you need to go slow before you let people completely unmask and live their lives if they’ve gotten the vaccine? I know you’re waiting for the data to say it’s safe, but what data do you have that says it’s unsafe?

WALENSKY: Well, you know, we know the data are emerging, have been emerging, with regard to the variants, specifically the UK variant, the Brazil variant, which is increasing here in the United States, the South Africa variant, now we have variants coming from India as well. So, we know those data are forthcoming, they’ve been emerging through the literature. With those variants here, we do want to make sure that those data are going to be out and demonstrate that our vaccines will work. And I’m looking forward to updating our guidance very soon.

(…)

CUOMO: Last question. I appreciate you being on the show. Let me give you the opportunity to deal with what the heart of the criticism is. It’s that, you know things and you don’t tell us. Because you want to err on the side of caution. And people want to know the information, they want to make their own choices. How do you respond to that?

WALENSKY: My job is to keep individuals safe. My job is to keep populations safe. My job is to keep counties safe where we have really high levels of vaccinations and counties safe where we have really low levels of vaccination. Communities safe where we have low levels of vaccination. I have been completely forthcoming with respect to the science, with respect to our guidance, with respect to our numbers, with respect to our cases. And I really look forward to updating the guidance and providing the science that allows us to do so very soon.

(…)

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