News Release

“Pretty Extreme”: CDC Decision to Loosen Universal Masking in Health Care Settings


This week, the CDC issued an update to its masking recommendations. The agency no longer recommends universal masking in health care settings. Epidemiologist Justin Feldman told the Institute for Public Accuracy that the change in guidance is “pretty extreme.” He added: “It’s hard to know exactly what the effect will be.”

JUSTIN FELDMAN;, @jfeldman_epi
    Feldman is a social epidemiologist and a visiting scientist at the Francois-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University. 

Feldman said that the CDC’s move is “clearly not going to strengthen public health measures. At best, it will be neutral. It probably will weaken them.” 

A parallel change, Feldman said, was the switch to the CDC’s community level system last February. The community level map dictates that when a community becomes high risk, organizations are supposed to begin mandating masks. But time and again, “we see that when counties have high levels, mask mandates don’t follow––and there is no strong messaging from any level of government about masking. So the question here will be about whether institutional policies come into effect amid high levels.”

Feldman also spoke about how this move can be contextualized within the gradual push by economic elites to “assimilate” Covid into the “dominant model.” He uses Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò’s concept of “elite capture” to describe how, after the initial months of unprecedented collective response to the virus, economic elites in all sectors, including civil society and government, “used their influence to undermine public health protections.” By and large, Feldman argues, the Democratic Party, labor unions, news media, and major public health institutions went along with them. They were successful in pushing Covid into the dominant model that the U.S. uses to address most health and social problems. That model: 

  1. prioritizes treatment, not prevention;
  2. treats individuals, rather than the collective;
  3. provides a modest welfare state as a benefit, not as a right;
  4. and targets the most acute, “deserving,” means-tested individuals.

Feldman argues that the Biden administration itself has also worked to assimilate Covid––initially, by using rhetoric that stressed personal responsibility, and later, by stressing personal choice. Feldman warns us that “public health has taken a turn.” Going forward, the sector “will increasingly be seen as a tool of the elite.”