Gov. Andrew Cuomo accused the Biden administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of blindsiding governors with last week’s guidance that vaccinated people can ditch masks in most settings, telling officials, “We had to scramble.”
Details of the private call between the White House, Cuomo and other governors were tweeted out Tuesday by ABC News reporter Katherine Faulders.
The CDC unveiled its updated guidance May 13, which stated that anyone who is fully vaccinated can “start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic,” in the words of Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky.
“Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities – large or small — without wearing a mask or physically distancing,” said Walensky, who added that the new guidance also applied to events like outdoor concerts and sporting events. The CDC also published a graphic showing that fully vaccinated people could go without masks at movie theaters, worship services and indoor restaurants and bars.
Despite the sweeping nature of the CDC guidance last Thursday, officials like Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio initially held back from following it. Cuomo, in conjunction with his counterparts in New Jersey and Connecticut, waited until Monday to announce that the state would lift most mask mandates beginning Wednesday.
According to Faulders, Cuomo described the topic of masking as “sensitive” and told administration officials, including Walensky, that “we had to scramble and we didn’t really have the same uniformity of message that I think we’ve had up until now.”
Cuomo also went on to claim that the announcement had “caused confusion” that led to a drop in the number of vaccinations. As of Tuesday, more than half of all New York state adults were fully vaccinated and 62 percent had received at least one dose, according to the Department of Health’s vaccination dashboard.
Walensky defended the updated guidance and said it was not intended to convince people to get vaccinated, according to Faulders. In response to a separate question from North Carolina Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, Walensky reportedly admitted that the CDC had yet to work out guidance on whether businesses and retailers should still mandate masks for employees and customers.
Still, several big national and local retailers started dropping mask requirements after the guidance came out.
The White House and Cuomo’s office did not immediately return requests for comment.
Biden’s CDC has come under fire for issuing confusing and contradictory guidance during the pandemic. On Monday, former Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams told CNN that the administration had made “an appropriate call” in issuing the revised guidance but “fumbled the ball at the one-yard line in terms of communicating this to the public.”
“It was a little bit of whiplash for the American public in terms of them saying just a week before, ‘Keep your mask on’ and then all of sudden they’re saying, ‘Now you can take them off,’” Adams said.
A Republican governor, Pete Ricketts of Nebraska, told Fox News that he found out about the new guidance “in the news, just like the general public did,” and called for “better communication” from both the White House and CDC.