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Sourcing, teamwork yields major scoop on CDC’s mask rollback

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Mike Balsamo and Zeke Miller scooped the competition by a full hour, reporting the news that so many celebrated: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was revising its guidance to allow fully vaccinated people to ditch their masks in most indoor and outdoor settings.

The seed for the story came from an unlikely source: Washington-based Balsamo covers the Justice Department for AP but he’s always keeping an ear out for big news, no matter the subject. Balsamo was checking in with a very good source about another matter when the person mentioned as an aside, “Hey, the CDC is going to say something today.”

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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky testifies during a Senate hearing on efforts to combat COVID-19, on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 11, 2021. On May 13 the CDC eased mask-wearing guidance for fully vaccinated people. – Jim Lo Scalzo / Pool via AP

That was enough to pique Balsamo’s interest, and he quietly messaged reporter Zeke Miller, who has dominated the coronavirus beat at the White House. Miller had already been pressing on when the government might update its guidance on masks and other coronavirus matters, and he updated Balsamo on what he knew was pending.

With that, Balsamo went back to his high-ranking source to find out more. That person gave him all the details on a scoop that the AP would own. He and Miller teamed up, quickly turning around an alert and filing the breaking news, then building out the story with help from science writer Lauran Neergaard.

Their scoop broke during White House press secretary Jen Psaki’s daily briefing, but she refused to confirm it, saying only that the CDC would speak at a briefing later. The story swept play as other news outlets scrambled to match it; the piece was AP’s top story, attracting nearly 639,000 page views.

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