Republican Kentucky Senator Rand Paul accused infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci of “theatre” over Fauci wearing two face masks despite being vaccinated against COVID-19. Their contentious exchange occurred as COVID-19 case numbers rise in Michigan and New Jersey.
At a Thursday Senate hearing, Paul questioned health experts’ recommendation that vaccinated individuals should continue wearing face masks. Paul said that people who have either had the vaccine or been infected with COVID-19 have immunity, making them no longer need masks.
“What studies do you have that people that have had the vaccine or have had the infection are spreading the infection?” Paul asked Fauci, according to The Washington Post. “If we’re not spreading the infection, isn’t it just theater?… You’ve had the vaccine, and you’re wearing two masks. Is that just theater?”
Fauci said it wasn’t just theatre. He responded that studies haven’t conclusively determined whether vaccinated or previously infected individuals can still spread the virus. He also said studies haven’t determined whether the newly emerging COVID-19 variants can infect vaccinated or previously infected individuals either.
Paul accused Fauci of making “policy based on conjecture.” Fauci responded that the medical recommendation to continue wearing masks wasn’t based on conjecture but rather “unknowns,” the Post reported.
Fauci later clarified in a statement that it’s believed that the immunity granted by vaccinations and previous infections only gives people partial protection from COVID-19 variants. He said the viral variants may diminish one’s immunity “two- to eight-fold.”
Meanwhile, COVID-19 case numbers have risen in Michigan and New Jersey.
On March 4, Michigan reported 1,827 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases, according to the John Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center. On March 17, the state reported 3,785 cases—a 107 percent increase two weeks. Michigan’s COVID-19 cases have steadily risen since February 20.
On March 4, New Jersey reported 3,193 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases. On March 17, the state reported 4,329 cases—a 35 percent increase.
As of March 18, Michigan ranks 13th among states with the highest overall number of infections. The state has had 683,000 cases and 16,835 related deaths overall. Comparatively, as of March 18, New Jersey ranks 10th among states with the highest overall number of infections. The state has had 853,000 cases and 24,076 related deaths overall.
Michigan currently has the nation’s highest infection rate, according to Covid Act Now, a group of epidemiologists and health experts that monitors each state’s risk of a COVID-19 outbreak. As of March 18, Michigan’s infection rate is 1.18, meaning that each person infected with COVID-19 likely spreads it to, on average, 1.18 people. The group considers infection rates above 1.1 as “high.”
Most of New Jersey’s colleges and universities have canceled their spring breaks to avoid a resurgence. It’s believed that students on spring break are more likely to ignore masking and social distancing measures while also forming large crowds.
Newsweek contacted Paul’s office for comment.