When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that people fully vaccinated against COVID-19 no longer had to wear masks or physically distance themselves by government mandate, many immediately felt that this was unwise. The announcement was released without addressing how people might be able to tell who is vaccinated and who is not in a public setting, among a myriad of other problems that this will pose in the grand scheme of things. It offered no guidance on how to help those who are unvaccinated other than telling them to go “find a vaccine”. The mandate also disregards the safety of immunocompromised people who cannot receive the vaccine and allows anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers to potentially spread the virus as summer activities start up. In other words, the lifting of the mask mandate will ultimately cause more problems than it is worth.
One of the most obvious reasons that the lift will be difficult is that it will allow anti-mask and anti-vaccine groups to go out in public freely and potentially risk spreading the virus. There is no way of verifying who is and who is not vaccinated yet, and this honor system is incredibly risky. Someone carrying the virus could easily lie about their condition and find themselves in a crowd of people, spreading COVID all over again. More importantly, there is still a small chance that vaccinated people can get infected with COVID-19, yet people are inaccurately assuming that being vaccinated means being completely safe from the virus, a conflation that could have dangerous consequences. And as there are stronger variants of COVID cropping up around the world, if more people catch and spread these variants, then the vaccine will ultimately be rendered useless. We’ll be right back at square one.
This is not to say that it is not understandable why the CDC felt comfortable releasing this announcement. Infection rates are going down, and the science is solid that the vaccine seems to be working for the most part. To hide this kind of information would likely cause a huge uproar if it were to be leaked, as people would probably assume that they were trying to hide this information for some ulterior motive. Therefore, stating that fully vaccinated people are safer than the unvaccinated population was a good move in this perspective. There was no problem with the CDC wanting to release this information.
The real issue was with how the release was handled. Saying outright that masks are essentially no longer required gives people who have been against them from the start an excuse to be without them. The smarter move would have been for the CDC to slowly develop a way for people to confirm their safety so that there won’t be another wave of COVID due to some people being careless.
The lift is dangerous as well because it alienates those who want to get vaccinated but have not received the chance to. The unvaccinated should not be conflated with those who are anti-vaccine. And those who are skeptical about the vaccine should not be lumped in with anti-vaxxers either. Many minority communities have received decades of mistreatment by the medical community, and as such, they have every right to feel wary of the vaccine. Furthermore, many rural communities have not been able to get the vaccine either; most of the people who have been able to get the vaccine are overwhelmingly white. To suddenly announce that these people get the all-clear while these less fortunate communities have to sit and wait for longer than they should screams privilege.
Furthermore, this lift does not take into account the people who cannot be vaccinated due to medical issues. People on chemotherapy and other medical treatments may not be able to receive the vaccine. This makes it all the more necessary that more people get vaccinated in order to help protect those who can’t be. However, the lifting of the mask mandate has made the interest in taking the vaccine decrease, and only about 40% of the country has been vaccinated. This means that those who cannot have the vaccine are still at a higher risk simply because people are starting not to care if they get the vaccine or not. These groups will remain at a higher risk if the rest of the country does not do their part.
Though the time seemed to be right to announce this good news for fully vaccinated people, the blanket statement that the CDC released does not address the nuances that exist. Even worse, the release of this statement will be hard to backtrack on, which could mean that some of the worst consequences are yet to come. Though many people are still fine with wearing masks, those who don’t may risk spreading these new variants. The best solution to all of this is to err on the side of caution and continue to wear masks.