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Psaki reiterates that CDC rolled back mask use independently, says politics didn't play role

Jen Psaki press secretary
Posted at 9:15 AM, May 14, 2021

White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Friday denied that politics played a part in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s decision to roll back mask mandates on Thursday.

“The CDC — the doctors and medical experts — were the ones who made this decision," Psaki said during a press briefing Friday.

Psaki said that the White House was not informed of the updated guidance until Wednesday evening, and added that many in the administration were surprised to hear about the new recommendations.

She later added that the administration was reviewing an order that Biden signed upon his inauguration that instituted a mask mandate on federal property. She said that more information on that order would likely be coming in the next few days.

Regarding the CDC’s recommendation that masks still be worn on planes and during interstate commercial travel, Psaki said the administration would let doctors and health experts lead the way and had “nothing to preview.”

The CDC issued the updated guidance on Thursday, saying that Americans two weeks out from their final COVID-19 vaccine dose could largely return to normal life.

“Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities, large or small, without wearing a mask or physical distancing,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Thursday. “If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic. We have all longed for this moment, when we can get back to some sense of normalcy.”

On Thursday, President Joe Biden called the new CDC guidance a “great milestone.”

"Just a few hours ago, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the CDC, announced that they are no longer recommending that fully vaccinated people need wear masks. This recommendation holds true whether you are inside or outside. I think it's a great milestone, a great day," he said.

Friday’s briefing also featured comments from Cecilia Rouse, the chair of the Council of Economic Advisers who defended the Biden administration’s continued use of unemployment insurance.

"UI has served a very important role during this pandemic," Rouse said, adding that it's helped put food on the table for many Americans. "We stand behind that (UI is a) very important support."

She also added that the economic recovery is tied to recovery from COVID-19 and said increased economic performance will require getting as many Americans vaccinated as soon as possible.

Psaki was also questioned about tensions between Israel and Palestine, which are spilling out into violence on Gaza Strip. She continued to maintain that the Biden administration “believes Israel has a right to self-defense,” but side-stepped a question as to whether she believed Israel had gone too far in its response.

She added that Biden is working "behind the scenes" to "promote de-escalation" in the region, saying that the president had spoken with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Palestinian guard, high-ranking US officials and other Middle East.