The White House on Tuesday struggled to explain why the Centers for Disease Control would announce new masking policies across the country, despite ongoing faith in the effectiveness of coronavirus vaccines.
“I know this is slightly awkward timing,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki acknowledged at the beginning of the daily press briefing. The CDC scheduled a briefing on their new mask guidance for later in the afternoon.
Throughout the briefing, Psaki repeated that the administration was still battling the coronavirus, despite weeks of sunny rhetoric celebrating President Joe Biden’s success in handling the pandemic.
“We’re still in the midst of a once in a generation pandemic, battling an ever-evolving virus,” she said.
But the administration’s wholesale dependence on the CDC left the Biden White House unable to explain to the public the renewed guidance.
“We will of course be abiding by every aspect of the CDC guidelines on masking that they will provide this afternoon,” she said.
Psaki immediately pulled up an infographic behind her at the podium claiming that “virtually all hospitalizations and deaths are among unvaccinated people,” citing case reports in Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, and Colorado.
But when asked why vaccinated Americans would have to again wear masks in public if the vaccines were effective, Psaki struggled to explain.
“Because public health leaders in our administration have made the determination, based on data, that that is a way to make sure they’re protected, their loved ones are protected, and that’s an extra step, given the transmissibility of the virus … that they’re advising people to take,” she replied.
Psaki repeatedly punted detailed questions about the updated mask policy to the CDC, reminding reporters they always planned on following the science, the data, and public health officials on how to handle the pandemic.
“Their job is to look at evolving information, evolving data, an evolving historic pandemic, and provide guidance to the American public,” she said, referring to the CDC.
She concluded that Americans should continue to trust health experts and the administration’s guidance on vaccines, mask mandates, and other coronavirus information.
“Our responsibility here is to always lead with the science and always leave with the advice of health and medical experts,” she said. “And we’re going to continue to provide information to all of you about how to protect yourself and save your lives.”
Psaki was also unable to explain why the CDC took so long to update the guidance, again punting the answer to the CDC.
“Our guidance is based on the public health experts and what they are advising in terms of steps that should be taken,” she said.
Psaki also defended Biden’s positive rhetoric about beating the coronavirus in recent weeks before the Delta variant of the virus made it more infectious.
“The reality is we’re dealing with a much different strain of this virus than we were even earlier in the spring,” she said, noting that Biden was referring to “a different strain of the virus,” when he was being optimistic.