The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says more than 90% of Americans can now consider removing their masks while indoors. The Atlanta-based public health agency updated its mask guidance this week citing data that tracks community wide spread of COVID-19 by county.
The announcement came after many states allowed their indoor mask mandates to expire. The CDC's new advice does not apply to every locale or scenario. The Transportation Security Administration's federal mask mandate for traveling by commercial aircraft, bus, and rail systems remains in place but is set to expire on March 18.
The CDC has repeatedly been criticized for its messaging and for its sometimes confusing guidance throughout the pandemic. The agency gave 60 Minutes rare access to its Atlanta campus.
While in Georgia on assignment for 60 Minutes, CBS News chief medical correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook interviewed Dr. Arjun Srinivasan, an epidemiologist at the CDC and a captain in the United States Public Health Service.
In the video above, Dr. LaPook asked Dr. Srinivasan about the CDC's latest mask guidance, the future of COVID testing, and what the CDC thinks a "new normal" will look like.
"I think the new normal looks very much like it does now [where] we're able to get back to gathering with friends [and] with loved ones," Dr. Srinivasan said. "We're able to travel to do some of these things that we love. But we're always vigilant. And we're ready to reach for things like masks [and] for vaccines when we need them."
PUBLIC HEALTH ACCESS
LaPook also spoke with CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, an infectious diseases physician who was appointed by President Joe Biden and began her tenure in January 2021. She told 60 Minutes that the pandemic has highlighted disparities in health care access in Black and Hispanic communities, which experienced more transmission, hospitalizations, and deaths from COVID-19.
In April 2021, Dr. Walensky declared racism a serious public health threat. She told 60 Minutes that the CDC is working to build trust through public health initiatives across all communities. The effort includes a multi-year, $2.25 billion initiative that began last March to fund health departments in underserved communities that have been heavily impacted by COVID-19.
"Our workforce has to be as diverse as the communities they serve," Dr. Walensky told LaPook. "We need [our] public health workforce doing all of that work now, and in fact I firmly believe that it will help not just vaccination for COVID but it'll help level the playing field in all those places that they're not level in terms of diabetes, hypertension, stroke, cardiovascular disease, and many other things."
COVID-19 AND CHILDREN
Dr. Walensky noted that one of the legacies of the pandemic is the impact it had on children.
The director defended the institution's guidance to limit the spread of COVID-19 in schools and told 60 Minutes, "We did, I think, what was necessary to do at the time. But we have suffered for it and our children have suffered for it."
Dr. Walensky also shared concern that many Americans have fallen behind on routine health screenings during the pandemic.
"We have a lot of public health catch-up work to do," Dr. Walensky told 60 Minutes. "I do hope that in our bolstering of the public health infrastructure, and our data systems and our workforce, that we'll be more empowered to be able to do some of those things. But I do think we have a lotta work ahead of us."
COVID VACCINE HESITANCY
According to CDC data, nearly 216 million people have received their full regimen of the COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S.
Dr. Walensky said she was surprised that more people did not rush to get the vaccine with the same speed as past national inoculation campaigns, including the one for polio in the 1950s and 60s.
"I wish I could explain it," Dr. Walensky told 60 Minutes. "I think we all thought that the same thing would happen during COVID… People are dying. We have nearly a million deaths. We thought people would flock to get the vaccine."
Dr. Walensky said CDC data also indicates that fewer people have received other vaccines, including the annual flu shot.
You can watch Dr. LaPook's full 60 Minutes report below.
The videos above were produced by Keith Zubrow and Sarah Shafer Prediger. They were edited by Sarah Shafer Prediger.
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