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Rochelle Walensky

The U.S. federal government in 2021 leaned on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help shape and guide the Biden administration’s Covid-19 strategy, from travel guidelines to vaccine distribution. The CDC under director Rochelle Walensky this year led the way on key decisions affecting the business travel industry—including one announced and implemented rather abruptly.

The CDC in May, amid the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines to the general U.S. adult population, announced that fully vaccinated individuals with immediate effect could gather in groups without wearing masks or socially distancing, paving the way for live, in-person corporate groups to meet once again. The guidance didn’t apply to airplanes or airports, but during the subsequent two months, every U.S. state gave the go-ahead for maskless in-person meetings for the vaccinated. 

Then came the delta variant of Covid-19. After it started to spread in the U.S., sending case counts skyward, Walensky’s CDC in July reversed itself, calling for indoor masks for everyone, even the fully vaccinated, in “areas of substantial or high transmission.” She stressed that the guidance was a recommendation, not an edict, and said it was “not a decision we at the CDC have made lightly.”

Still, that guidance remained the same in December as it did in July. And while most states have ditched mask mandates in most areas entirely (though not airports or planes), and some have dropped them for the vaccinated, a handful of U.S. states and territories still require the vaccinated and unvaccinated alike to mask up indoors. Whether that policy could affect corporates’ decision-making regarding meeting site selection is yet to be seen, but until the CDC issues another set of indoor masking guidelines, it will bear watching.

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