“It may take a couple of days, but certainly I would expect on federal lands, federal properties that the (CDC) guidelines will be the guide,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Friday.
President Joe Biden began his presidency by asking Americans to wear masks for 100 days and requiring their use on federal property. The announcement by the White House on Friday underscores how far the US has come in its response to the pandemic since Biden took office just a few months ago thanks in large part to the rollout of coronavirus vaccines.
The federal mandate Biden signed on his first day in office affects federal offices and federal lands. A president cannot tell states or cities what to do, but the mandate urged states to adopt the same masking practices.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky announced on Thursday that people fully vaccinated against Covid-19 do not need to wear masks or practice social distancing indoors or outdoors, except in rare circumstances. The President touted new mask guidance as “a great day for America” and an important milestone in the US coronavirus response.
Early on in his presidency, Biden took executive action to require mask wearing in airports and on certain modes of transportation, including many trains, airplanes, maritime vessels and intercity buses.
Psaki noted that following the CDC’s announcement on Thursday, the White House emailed staffers telling them they no longer have to wear a mask on the complex’s grounds if they are vaccinated. White House reporters were also informed they do not have to wear masks if they are fully vaccinated.
Psaki stressed that the CDC operates independently from the White House, and that the federal health agency decides the guidance based on science and sets its own timeline for announcements.
White House officials said they were surprised when the CDC informed them at about 9 p.m. ET Wednesday that the agency was changing its guidance for fully vaccinated people, CNN reported. Officials had not expected the CDC to release new masking guidance for at least several more days, and also did not anticipate how far-reaching the guidance would be, given the CDC’s cautious track record.