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The Lancet




In the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, US public health policy remains at a crossroads. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) May 28, 2021 guidance, which lifted masking recommendations for vaccinated people in most situations, exemplifies a troubling shift — away from public health objectives that center equity and toward a model of individual personal responsibility for health. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky emphasized that "your health is in your hands," undermining the idea that fighting COVID is a "public" health responsibility that requires the support of institutions and communities. The social impacts of this scientific guidance, combined with the emergence of new variants, have exposed the fallacy of this approach, with most local mask restrictions lifted and infections rising dramatically among disadvantaged populations. Rapidly rising cases prompted the CDC on July 27th to recommend resuming indoor masking even for vaccinated people in "areas of substantial or high transmission," but US policy continues to frame the pandemic largely as a matter of individual responsibility to the detriment of public health. As public health professionals and advocates, we call for a renewed commitment to core public health principles of collective responsibility, health equity, and human rights.

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