Republican governors are rejecting new mask recommendations the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued Tuesday, casting the health guidance as a step back amid a push to vaccinate millions of Americans that is already struggling in their states.
In statements and public comments, governors said their states would not return to the mask orders issued in 2020.
“The CDC’s new guidance suggesting that vaccinated people wear masks indoors flies in the face of the public health goals that should guide the agency’s decision making,” Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) said in a statement. “The State of Nebraska will not be adopting their mask guidance.”
“Public health officials in Arizona and across the country have made it clear that the best protection against COVID-19 is the vaccine. Today’s announcement by the CDC will unfortunately only diminish confidence in the vaccine and create more challenges for public health officials — people who have worked tirelessly to increase vaccination rates,” Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) said in a statement.
Newly revised guidance from the Atlanta-based agency recommends that some fully vaccinated people wear masks indoors if they live in areas where the virus is spreading rapidly.
In comments Wednesday, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky acknowledged that Americans are “tired and frustrated” by the pandemic. But the surging delta variant, which is far more transmissible than earlier strains and now makes up the vast majority of new cases diagnosed in the United States, has changed the agency’s best understanding of the science of the virus.
About 46 percent of counties in the U.S. — including much of the South, the Mountain West and the Pacific Coast — are classified as areas with high levels of community transmission. Every county in Florida, Louisiana and Arkansas falls into the category of highest concern, along with all but a few counties in states like Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and Missouri.
Most of Nevada, Utah and Wyoming are areas of high concern. So are parts of California, much of Indiana and Kentucky, and eastern swaths of Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.
Governors of some of the states at the epicenter of the delta wave said they had no intention of bringing back mask mandates.
“Gov. Abbott has been clear that the time for government mandating of masks is over — now is the time for personal responsibility,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) office said in a statement Tuesday. “Every Texan has the right to choose whether they will wear a mask, or have their children wear masks.”
Abbott was among the majority of governors who issued a mask mandate last year. Texans were ordered to wear masks indoors for 250 days, until March. Abbott subsequently issued an executive order barring state or local government agencies from issuing their own orders.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) called the new guidance “not grounded in reality or common sense.”
“I’m concerned that this guidance will be used as a vehicle to mandate masks in states and schools across the country, something I do not support,” Reynolds said.
President Biden said Tuesday he would follow CDC’s guidance when traveling to high-risk areas. He said the guidance was meant to “avoid the kind of lockdowns, shutdowns, school closures and disruptions we faced in 2020.”
“Unlike 2020, we have both the scientific knowledge and the tools to prevent the spread of this disease. We are not going back to that,” Biden said.
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R), a potential presidential candidate who has criticized fellow Republican governors for their pandemic-era mandates, castigated the CDC for acknowledging the new strain.
“The CDC shifts their position AGAIN,” Noem wrote on Twitter. “South Dakota’s cases remain low. If you’re worried about the virus, you’re free to get vaccinated, wear a mask, or stay home. But we won’t be mandating anything. And the CDC’s inconsistency doesn’t help the American people.”
The rise of the delta variant, first identified in India, has spurred Republicans to urge their supporters to accept vaccines that are still demonstrably effective against the new strain.
Some Republicans, such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) who survived polio as a child, have been vocal proponents of vaccination from the earliest days. McConnell said Tuesday he would spend his own campaign cash to air radio advertisements on more than 100 stations across Kentucky urging his constituents to take the shot.
Others have only come around more recently. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) said last week he had been spurred to take the vaccine by the dangers of the delta variant.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R), who expressed frustration with those who refused to get their shots, wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post — later reprinted in her home state newspapers — urging constituents to embrace a vaccine developed under former President Trump.
But even in Ivey’s state, where only 34 percent of adults are fully vaccinated — the lowest rate in the country — the governor said she would not take additional steps to encourage vaccination.
“There are those who believe that government should mandate the vaccine or that we should bribe people to take it. That’s not going to happen in my state, no matter how many times the media ask me,” Ivey wrote.