Dr. Anthony Fauci told “CBS This Morning” on Friday that Senator Rand Paul is “dead wrong” after the two had a fierce face-off about mask wearing in a Senate hearing. Fauci argues that Americans should continue to wear masks even after they are vaccinated against COVID-19 — something Paul dismissed as “theater.”

“Senator Paul has this message that we don’t need masks, which goes against just about everything we know about how to prevent spread of the virus,” Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, told “CBS This Morning.” 

“He was saying if you’ve been infected, or you’ve been vaccinated, don’t wear a mask — which is completely against all public health tenets,” Fauci continued. “So he’s dead wrong. I mean, I don’t have anything personally against him. But he’s just quite frankly incorrect.”

Paul, who was an eye doctor before entering politics, is one of Fauci’s loudest critics in Congress and regularly spars with him during COVID-related hearings. They went at it again Thursday when the Kentucky Republican rejected the guidance for vaccinated people to keep wearing masks in public places.

“You wan to get rid of vaccine hesitancy? Tell them you can quit wearing your mask after they get the vaccine,” Paul said. “You want people to get the vaccine, give them a reward instead of telling them that the nanny state’s going to be there for three more years and you got to wear a mask forever. People don’t want to hear it.”

“Well, let me just state for the record that masks are not theater,” Fauci replied. “Masks are protective.”

“If you have immunity, they’re theater,” Paul said. “If you already have immunity you’re wearing a mask to give comfort to others.”

“I totally disagree with you,” Fauci told him.

Fauci explained that masks can help protect against coronavirus variants that are spreading rapidly in the U.S. and could potentially lead to reinfection for people who already had the virus. Researchers are still studying how well current vaccines will protect against the emerging variants.

Fauci has previously said it’s “possible” Americans may need to keep wearing masks into 2022. Doctors have pointed out that vaccinated people could potentially still spread COVID, even if they are protected against the symptoms of it.

The CDC recommends that fully vaccinated Americans continue to wear masks in public, though it says they can have maskless indoor visits with other vaccinated people and with unvaccinated people from a single household who are at low risk for severe COVID disease. 

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