ABC News panned after calling on vaccinated individuals to continue masking, avoiding crowds: ‘Posturing’

As Americans try to move on from COVID-19, calls from federal officials and progressive media medical voices to continue masking and other cautious behavior still abound in a time of vaccines, boosters, effective coronavirus treatments, and natural immunity.

“Fear is a huge ingredient in how we approach public health and it shouldn’t be,” Fox News contributor Dr. Marc Siegel said. “It’s a jump to the worst-case scenario … There’s never an acknowledgment of what it is you’re risking by scaring.”

The latest example came in an ABC News piece last week by medical contributor Dr. Jay Bhatt, with an accompanying tweet that it was time for vaccinated individuals – who had also gotten a booster shot to bolster their immunization – to “take a deep breath” and continue wearing masks inside and not re-engage with large crowds.

“You did everything you could to stay safe,” Bhatt wrote. “You socially distanced. You wore a mask. You avoided large gatherings and unsafe indoor environments. When the coronavirus vaccine became available, you got in line and got your shots. Now that eight months have passed, you’re getting ready to get a booster. And now, you think, finally, it’s time to throw caution to the wind and return to the life you lived pre-pandemic.

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“I wish I could tell you that was the case. But for your safety and the safety of those around you – including kids who are about to start getting their vaccinations – it’s time to take a deep breath, tap the brakes, continue using your mask indoors, and not re-engage with large crowds just yet.”

Kennedy Montenegro, 5, dances after receiving the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine in Collegeville, Pennsylvania, U.S., November 6, 2021. 

Kennedy Montenegro, 5, dances after receiving the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine in Collegeville, Pennsylvania, U.S., November 6, 2021. 
(REUTERS/Hannah Beier)

Among Bhatt’s reasons were that it was “flu season” and there were “other viruses” like the one that causes the common cold. It also quoted another ABC News contributor who warned about high “community transmission.”

“So yes, if you’re an older adult or your body is immuno-compromised, it’s a good idea to get a booster shot. But that doesn’t mean it’s time to brush aside those public health measures that keep us, our loved ones, and our communities safe,” Bhatt wrote.

Fox News medical contributor Dr. Nicole Saphier called it mere “posturing to make people feel better.”

“What is saving lives is the arsenal we have in terms of natural immunity, vaccines, boosters, and the know-how of how to treat people with COVID in addition to new treatments that are proving to keep people out of the hospital,” she told Fox News Digital.

Continued mitigation strategies like mask mandates, she warned, could serve to further weaken immune systems, especially among children.

“it is necessary for young children to have their immune systems challenged early on,” she said. “Research shows kids who share bathrooms or don’t necessarily live in a sterile environment have fewer chronic illnesses because they’ve created this robust immune system … We’ve effectively decreased other viruses circulating, but they are essential to our children building that lifelong immunity.”

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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky gives her opening statement during the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions hearing on "Next Steps: The Road Ahead for the COVID-19 Response" on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., November 4, 2021.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky gives her opening statement during the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions hearing on “Next Steps: The Road Ahead for the COVID-19 Response” on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., November 4, 2021.
(REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz)

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky also continues to call for those who are vaccinated to wear masks. Critics mocked the New York Times after it quoted a physician last week who said Thanksgiving gatherings that included unvaccinated individuals should have no more than 10 people, but a gathering of all vaccinated individuals could “potentially go up to three family groups or 15 people.”

Voices across the political spectrum who want their lives back to normal have continually complained about shifting coronavirus goalposts from leading health figures like Dr. Anthony Fauci and others. In many cases, it seems as if the most prominent voices that continue to make calls like Bhatt’s are being tuned out completely, except by those already prone to more cautious behavior anyway.

Saphier said she didn’t understand the motivations of the hyper-cautious, but as she said earlier this year, a zero-risk environment is unattainable. She pointed to optimism around coronavirus treatments such as the anti-anxiety medication fluvoxamine, the oral treatment molnupiravir, and Pfizer’s COVID pill Paxlovid as other positives, calling for patients to have affordable outpatient medications for the virus if they were infected. 

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“Do everything you can to lower your risk of severe outcome and transmission,” she said. “If you have comorbidity, consider the booster. We now have treatments. Even for those breakthrough cases, the tiny amount of them that become severe we have outpatient medications.”

The ABC News piece was thrashed online, with everyone from conservative commentators to former Pete Buttigieg adviser Lis Smith saying it was poor messaging and even a potential pivot to “forever masking.”

A clear political line has emerged on coronavirus and vaccines, with Republicans and conservatives less likely to get the latter and more likely to want to move on from the former. However, the bipartisan frustration with school closings was apparent with last week’s election results, as Virginia Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin, R., rode a tide of parental uproar against school closings to victory in the state’s gubernatorial race.

Democratic candidate for New York City Mayor Eric Adams and New York Governor Kathy Hochul greet each other after Adams is declared victor at his election night party in Brooklyn, New York, U.S. November 2, 2021.

Democratic candidate for New York City Mayor Eric Adams and New York Governor Kathy Hochul greet each other after Adams is declared victor at his election night party in Brooklyn, New York, U.S. November 2, 2021.
(REUTERS/Andrew Kelly)

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Even incoming New York City Mayor Eric Adams, D., said he wanted to see mask mandates in the blue city gone by the end of the year with vaccines now available for children ages five and up. Opponents of mask mandates have pointed to the negatives that more than offset the decreased risk of contracting COVID, which statistically is far less impactful on children than adults.

“The discomfort of a mask distracts some children from learning. By increasing airway resistance during exhalation, masks can lead to increased levels of carbon dioxide in the blood. And masks can be vectors for pathogens if they become moist or are used for too long,” Dr. Marty Makary, a Fox News contributor, and Dr. H. Cody Meissner wrote this year.

Comedian Bill Maher, a progressive who isn’t shy about calling out what he views as nonsense or incessant “wokeism” on his side of the aisle, has declared the pandemic “over.”

Siegel cautioned against that kind of talk, pointing to the current average in the U.S. of more than 70,000 cases a day, and that natural immunity wasn’t a failsafe due to the potential for re-infection. Rather, the infectious disease expert who is both pro-vaccine and wary of government overreach calls for a flexible combination of strategies that keep life going while not effectively whistling past the graveyard.

Vaccines, boosters, and more widely available testing are crucial to continuing to slow down the virus, he said.

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“We don’t need saber rattling. We’re tired of saber rattling … We’ve got to get this down, and we have the tools to get it down,” he said.

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