Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky and top government epidemiologist Dr. Anthony Fauci are likely to face questions at a Tuesday Senate hearing on whether the U.S. should bring back health measures like mask mandates as the delta COVID variant spreads.
Walensky and Fauci – who is President Biden’s top medical adviser – will appear before the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) Committee.
The hearing is meant to take a look at “The Path Forward” out of the pandemic. But worry over the Delta variant has led some in the U.S. to call for the return of strict health measures from the pandemic’s height. And that talk has led opponents of such measures to push back hard against moves they say would be counter-productive.
Los Angeles County on Friday ordered citizens to wear masks indoors, regardless of whether they were vaccinated, becoming the first major U.S. jurisdiction to backpedal on relaxing virus rules.
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And the very next day, former Surgeon General Jerome Adams, who served under former President Trump, said the CDC should adjust its guidance that people with vaccines don’t need masks – which was rolled out in May with much fanfare – to bring back masking for all.
“Instead of vax it OR mask it, the emerging data suggests CDC should be advising to vax it AND mask it in areas with [increasing] cases and positivity- until we see numbers going back down again,” Adams said in a tweet.
“No. No. No. Hell NO,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, replied to Adams.
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Multiple governors have also gone on the record in recent days as opposed to bringing back mask mandates, though more diplomatically than Cruz.
“For over a year and a half, South Carolinians have learned about the virus, they know what to do to protect themselves from it, and the vaccine is available to anyone who wants it,” a spokesperson for South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, a Republican, told WBTW.
“We are using the tool of vaccinations,” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, said, according to MyNorthwest.com. “That’s the ultimate answer to this pandemic. We don’t want to be wearing masks for the next 32 years – vaccines stop this thing dead.”
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Cruz may not be on the HELP Committee. But Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who has a history of combative exchanges with Fauci, will be at the hearing Tuesday. Paul last week introduced a bill to repeal federal mask mandates on public transportation, potentially foreshadowing questioning that will push the president’s top health officials to roll back such mandates on their own.
“The federal government forcing the American people to continue to wear masks despite the fact that we’ve already reached herd immunity is ridiculous and needs to end immediately,” Paul said in a statement. “In a free county people will evaluate their personal risk factors and are smart enough to ultimately make medical decisions like wearing a mask themselves.”
Paul was joined by several senators in introducing the bill, including Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Kan., who is also on the HELP Committee.
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The Democrats on the committee, meanwhile, are likely to raise concerns about the increased spread of the Delta variant and vaccine reluctance among many in the U.S.
“The delta variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 is driving cases up across the country,” Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., tweeted Monday, “It’s so important you and your loved ones get vaccinated to protect yourselves and help save lives.”
Fox News’ Ronn Blitzer contributed to this report.