Biden CDC gives COVID-19 warning: Double-masking, mutants and teachers

In its February 3 press briefing, the Biden administration discussed the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as issues related to it. Among other things, the topics covered double-masking, whether it is safe to reopen schools if teachers aren't vaccinated, and the persistent concern about 'mutant' versions of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and how we may have to change habits to reduce their spread.

Double Masks

In response to a question about mutant viruses and whether certain protective measures need to change — including whether we should start wearing two masks — Dr. Fauci stated:

Well, the answer is we always evaluate guidelines, you know, in real time, depending upon what the status is. But I want to emphasize what you just said: that, right now, we don't have complete, full compliance throughout the country of the fundamental public health measures that are necessary to prevent the spread. And I believe that if we do, we will be adequately addressing the transmissibility of these particular mutants.

Dr. Fauci went on to offer his opinion about the topic of double-masking, stating that while there's no official recommendation from the CDC to do so at this time, 'there are many people who take the commonsense approach.' He revealed that he personally wears two masks, going on to explain:

If you're talking about a physical barrier — and, as the CDC recommends, you want at least two layers within the mask as a physical barrier — and you feel may be more of a physical barrier would be better, there's nothing wrong with people wearing two masks.

At this time, however, Dr. Fauci notes that they cannot yet make a scientifically-backed recommendation to wear two face masks, but that such recommendations may be made in the future if studies reveal that two masks are better than one.

School vaccines

The topic of reopening schools has also come up, particularly whether the Biden administration planned to focus on getting teachers vaccinated so that schools can resume normal operations next fall. CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky answered that question, noting that the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) has created guidance on how to prioritize vaccinating the public.

States have been allowed to manage the vaccination in their own ways, with Dr. Walensky pointing out that teachers are included in the 1b category when it comes to vaccinating essential workers. Regardless, she notes that based on the latest data, it is likely safe to reopen schools even if teachers aren't yet vaccinated:

So while we are implementing the criteria of the Advisory Committee and of the state and local guidances to get vaccination across these eligible communities, I would also say that safe reopening of schools is not — that vaccination of teachers is not a prerequisite for safe reopening of schools.

COVID-19 mutants

And, of course, the experts talked about 'mutant' SARS-CoV-2 viruses and the concerns surrounding those, particularly whether we'll need to change things related to social distancing and more to address this issue.

Dr. Walensky chimed in on this question, stating that the 'CDC is actively looking at this question.' She explained that as part of the investigation into tracing these cases, 'we are finding that people were actually not taking the primary measures of any masking or any distancing.'

Wearing masks and social distancing is, Dr. Walensky said, the best barrier to curb the spread of these mutants, noting as well that as more data becomes available, the CDC will be able to offer guidance on whether there's value in wearing two masks instead of one.

The full White House February 3 press briefing can be found here.