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In a major about-face, former Planned Parenthood president Dr. Leana S. Wen explained in a Tuesday piece for The Washington Post that she and her family have moved past severe COVID-19 restrictions.
Last fall on CNN, Wen was still saying that masks serve as a “very powerful layer of protection” and until every student is vaccinated and other external measures are in place, the U.S. was “nowhere near” ready to allow children to learn mask-free.
Now, as schools begin to reopen again, she said, “I accept the risk that my kids will probably contract covid-19 this school year, just as they could contract the flu, respiratory syncytial virus and other contagious diseases.” She noted that with the current variant, “covid in our family will almost certainly be mild” and that “we’ve made the decision that following precautions strict enough to prevent the highly contagious BA.5 will be very challenging.”
She illustrated how harsh restrictions have ultimately had their own consequences.
“Masking has harmed our son’s language development, and limiting both kids’ extracurriculars and social interactions would negatively affect their childhood and hinder my and my husband’s ability to work,” she explained.
Wen recounted that after taking a great many cautionary measures earlier in the pandemic, “it wasn’t easy to change my mind-set to accept covid-19 as a recurring risk. But the high transmissibility of new variants meant that we would have to pay an increasingly high price if our goal was to keep avoiding the virus.”
She acknowledged that dealing with some level of risk is ultimately part of living a normal life.
“I began trying to think of the coronavirus as I do other everyday risks, such as falls, car accidents or drowning,” she noted. “Of course I want to shield my children from injuries, and I take precautions, such as using car seats and teaching them how to swim. By the same logic, I vaccinated them against the coronavirus. But I won’t put their childhood on hold in an effort to eliminate all risk.”
As a result, she stated that her family has “eased back on our precautions,” noting that “We see other families indoors, without masks or testing, and have resumed traveling and attending events.” Her kids in particular, who have spent chunks of their youth in a pandemic, will be returning to normal their lives, “Now that they are fully vaccinated, we do not plan to limit their activities, and — like most parents in their school — will not be masking them in the classroom.”
Yet she acknowledged that what works for her family is not necessarily what should be prescribed for everyone.
“To be clear, my family’s decision not to mask our kids should not be mislabeled as being antimask; we would never stigmatize other parents and caregivers for the difficult choices they must make,” she explained. “Rather, my approach to this school year reflects the evolution of the pandemic and the acknowledgment that avoiding covid-19 cannot be the singular metric of people’s overall health and well-being.”
Wen previously came under fire last July when she suggested life needs to be made “hard”for Americans who were not vaccinated, and that those who refused to get the shots should face weekly testing.
When the CDC relaxed mask guidance for the vaccinated in May 2021, Wen worried that an “honor system” for enforcing it would allow unvaccinated people to lie about their status and put the vulnerable at risk.
In early 2022, however, Wen’s statements began to soften when she supported states dropping school mask mandates claiming, “The science has changed.”