Kristina Logsdon is blunt about what getting COVID-19 would mean for her:
“I think it would probably mean death.”
Logsdon, 46, was diagnosed with Stage 4, metastatic breast cancer in 2015 and has fought it ever since. Her ongoing treatments, which she expects to continue for the rest of her life, leave her body immunocompromised and more vulnerable to serious disease and death from COVID-19.
As challenging and frightening as the past year has been, the recent CDC guidance that vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks in most indoor settings has added a new layer of fear and confusion.
Mask wearing has been a contentious and politicized issue since the pandemic began. Under the new guidance, there is no way to know if a person is not wearing a mask because they are vaccinated or because they don’t believe in masks or vaccines, and are potentially a walking threat to vulnerable people like Logsdon.
“It makes it much harder to leave the house because I don’t trust that people will honor the honor system,” said Logsdon, who lives in Shoreline. “It just seems like people are more concerned about their comfort than whether they might spread COVID and kill somebody.”
To make matters worse, in the rare times that Logsdon has been able to safely leave her home the past year, as an Asian American woman, she has had to fear potential anti-Asian attacks for wearing a mask in public as well, a situation she’s afraid will only worsen now.
You might think that a simple solution would be for immunocompromised people to just get vaccinated, but like with everything COVID-19, it’s not that simple.
The efficacy of vaccines for immunocompromised people was not specifically studied initially, but the emerging data is concerning. For many people with weakened immune systems, the vaccines are not producing much or any immune response (or protection) against the virus. Without that immune response, immunocompromised people will need others to be vaccinated, and for the public to keep wearing masks, to stay safe until the pandemic is contained.
Logsdon received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in March by taking a huge risk and volunteering at a vaccine clinic because at the time, there was no prioritization for immunocompromised people. Months later she still doesn’t know if the vaccine is protecting her from COVID-19, and if so, by how much.
The sudden reversal of federal mask guidance has left Logsdon feeling abandoned. “I just don’t feel like I matter,” she said. “They don’t care about people like me. I’m expendable.”
Imagine fighting cancer to a stalemate or finally getting a desperately needed organ transplant and then contracting COVID-19 because someone didn’t want to wear a mask or was confused about mask guidance.
Like Logsdon, Rian Roberson has largely had to figure out on their own how to navigate COVID-19 as an immunocompromised person.
Roberson, 35, who uses they/them pronouns, was diagnosed about five years ago with rheumatoid arthritis. In order to prevent excruciatingly painful and debilitating flare ups, Roberson takes immune-suppressing injections once a month. As a health care worker, Roberson was able to get a vaccine in February, but does not know if or how much protection it is providing.
The Seattle mental health counselor said the abrupt shift in mask guidance by the CDC created “whiplash.”
“I just feel like all caution has been thrown out the window,” Roberson said. “It just feels frightening and reckless to be pushing this through so quickly.”
Roberson said as a Black, queer person, they are used to not having their needs come first and figuring out on their own how to stay safe. But Roberson said we need to do a better job of caring for each other.
They said part of the problem is that our individualistic culture reinforces a belief that personal freedom is more important than collective survival. Roberson said this belief in individualism is in contrast to societies like South Korea, which has a more collectivist culture and dramatically fewer COVID-19 cases per capita than the U.S.
“(The U.S. has a) very us-versus-them, scarcity mentality,” Roberson said.
Immunocompromised people were not the only ones who were alarmed and confused by the CDC’s new guidance.
States, counties, cities and businesses were forced to scramble to clarify how the guidance would apply in their locations. In King County, Dr. Jeff Duchin, of Public Health — Seattle & King County, issued his own directive last week, to “strongly recommend” that masks continue to be worn in indoor public spaces, until 70% of the King County population is vaccinated. Nearly 60% of people in King County over age 16 are fully vaccinated now.
In an Infectious Disease Society of America briefing last week, Duchin shared his concerns about the CDC decision.
“There was no information on how to apply the guidance in practice, particularly related to the inability to verify vaccination status of unmasked people in public settings, or the potential impact of unvaccinated people no longer masking, or the importance of considering circumstances of local COVID-19 activity and vaccination rates when deciding when and how to implement such guidance,” Duchin said.
As the ripple effect of the CDC decision rolls through our communities, we all have a critical choice to make now.
I know what I am going to do. I am going to follow Duchin’s directive and wear a mask inside public places, even though I’m fully vaccinated. I am going to do it for Kristina, Rian and the other 10 million and more others whose lives are literally depending on it.