Let me make sure I’ve got this right. The government is telling Americans who have been vaccinated that we no longer have to wear masks but those who haven’t been vaccinated do.
And the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says, “Fully vaccinated people can resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing.”
President Joe Biden tweeted, “The rule is now simple: get vaccinated or wear a mask until you do.”
Are we supposed to assume that everyone we encounter who isn’t wearing a mask is fully vaccinated? Does that mean we no longer have to tell the maskless person standing on our heels in the grocery store checkout line to step back?
Yes, it’s true. So why aren’t we celebrating? Why is everyone so wary?
It’s because the government is asking us to trust our fellow Americans. We don’t.
Biden’s chief medical adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci, admitted on CNN that there’s no way for businesses such as restaurants and airlines, or anyone, to know whether someone has been vaccinated.
“You’re going to be depending on people being honest enough to say whether they were vaccinated or not and responsible enough to be wearing a mask not only for their own protection but the protection of others,” he said.
Certainly, the government isn’t naive enough to think that everyone who hasn’t been vaccinated will either stay at home or put on a mask when they go out. How could it expect us to trust the people who insist that COVID-19 is a hoax?
The Biden administration insists that the pandemic is not over, yet it is telling the 37% of Americans who have been vaccinated that they can act as though it is. But the pandemic is still raging for the 63% who haven’t had the shots. That’s the majority of the country.
Don’t officials realize that most of the adults yet to be vaccinated are the ones who never believed in wearing masks in the first place?
Don’t they know that many of the holdouts are the very people who don’t care about catching COVID-19 or passing it to others? Don’t they understand that you can’t expect unvaccinated people to be honest about their status?
Obviously, there are lots of questions about the revised mask guidelines handed down last week. It’s not that Americans haven’t been looking forward to returning to normal; we’re just not sure the country is ready.
We didn’t expect the new freedom to arrive so suddenly. We thought we’d be able to ease back into normality at our own pace.
Local and state officials have the final say, but only 24 states had indoor mask requirements in place to begin with. At least 20 of those states said they are now planning to drop their mask mandates.
That’s scary. For example, Florida, which has no mask mandate and few restrictions, saw more than 10,000 COVID-19 cases from three variants following the recent spring break.
Soon after the mask restrictions were eased, retail giant Walmart was among the first to announce that it would no longer require vaccinated shoppers or workers to wear masks in its stores.
Meanwhile, officials in big cities, where people tend to move in proximity, were caught off-guard and are scrambling to figure out how to handle one set of rules for part of the population and a different set for the other.
This is happening as cities begin to reopen, despite only 1 in 3 people being fully vaccinated. Concerts and other mass gatherings are expected to return this summer. Bars, indoor restaurants and sports venues are on track too.
Soon, people will return to swarming around each other, breathing, coughing and spitting like they used to before anyone heard of COVID-19.
Not long ago, health officials were touting the importance of herd immunity in bringing the virus under control. Now, they seem to have given up on that idea. Obviously, they’ve decided to move forward and just see what happens.
We’d like to trust that health officials are following the science. We know the vaccine is effectively protecting us as promised, but it’s not 100% foolproof. Still, even with the rare chance a vaccinated person contracts COVID-19, the symptoms likely would be mild.
What concerns us is that America is nowhere near herd immunity and won’t be anytime soon. Without it, there’s a good chance of more virus surges and the return of lockdowns, restrictions and masks.
Our friends and loved ones with HIV or a weakened immune system due to illness or medication remain at risk. Those with underlying autoimmune conditions such as lupus, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis have increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19, even when vaccinated.
Several public-health officials have questioned the wisdom of the relaxed mask mandate. National Nurses United — the nation’s largest union of registered nurses — said the mask rollback jeopardizes the health of front-line workers as well as the public, and disproportionately harms people of color.
The other problem is that many Americans don’t fully trust the CDC either. During the past four years, the nation’s once-premier public-health agency was a puppet for an administration that never took the pandemic seriously enough. Regardless of how many people became sick or died, the primary goal was to fully reopen the country so that the then-president could boast about the economy.
Public confidence in the CDC was severely eroded. Though the agency is rebuilding under new leadership, many Americans haven’t forgotten the betrayal. It will take time to trust that CDC directives are no longer entirely politically driven and that decisions regarding COVID-19 are made in the public’s interest.
Gaining the confidence to discard our masks will take time, as well. Those who care about health and safety are no more likely to walk into a Walmart without a mask than ride in a car without seat belt.