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U.S. surgeon general defends CDC mask change, blames tech companies for COVID deaths

2 minute read

Critical care workers insert an endotracheal tube into a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) positive patient in the intensive care unit (ICU) at Sarasota Memorial Hospital in Sarasota, Florida, February 11, 2021. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

WASHINGTON, July 18 (Reuters) - U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy stood by federal guidance that those fully vaccinated against COVID-19 no longer needed to wear masks, while blaming social media companies for fueling vaccine misinformation.

Murthy told CNN's "State of the Union" that allowing vaccinated individuals to forgo masks also gives communities the flexibility to revert to mask mandates based on new infections and vaccination rates, as Los Angeles has done.

Nationwide, new U.S. COVID-19 cases surged 70% this week compared with the prior seven days to an average of 30,000 new infections a day, fueled by the Delta variant. Deaths rose 26% week-over-week to an average of 250 lives lost a day, mostly in unvaccinated patients. (Graphic of global cases and deaths)

Murthy said that social media companies have fueled false narratives about the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines, echoing President Joe Biden's comments that social media companies were "killing people."

"There have been positive steps taken by these technology companies," Murthy said. "But what I've also said to them publicly and privately is that it's not enough."

Facebook (FB.O) defended itself against Biden's assertion in a post on Saturday, saying that it promoted authoritative information about vaccines and acted aggressively against health misinformation on its platforms.

Democratic Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar told CNN's "State of the Union" that she was looking into ways to hold social companies legally responsible for vaccine misinformation and suggested some might even need to be broken up.

"I am a fan of using anti-trust so we can get true competition against the dominant platforms," Klobuchar said.

Ken McClure, the mayor of Springfield, Missouri, blamed misinformation as part of the driving force behind poor vaccination rates in his community which has experienced a huge spike in COVID-19 cases.

"I think we're seeing a lot spread through social media," McClure told CBS's "Face the Nation." "I think we as a society and certainly in our community are being hurt by it."

Reporting by Joel Schectman and Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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