The CDC Just Released Its New Masking Guidelines, And I Have Some Concerns

by Wendy Wisner
Originally Published: 
Alberto Gonzalez/Getty

If this past year has taught me anything about people, it’s this:

There are many amazing souls who will do just about anything to help keep their fellow humans safe and well—who will make incredible sacrifices for the good of us all.

But, there are just as many people who feel that their own individual needs trump all else, and making even one small sacrifice is a huge freaking hardship, and an assault on their personal “liberties.”

This was the year I saw healthcare workers go into work everyday despite real and present dangers—caring for patients dying from a pandemic-level virus the world hadn’t seen in a century. It was the year I saw children and families completely halt all “normal” activities in the name of stopping the spread of a virus that threatened to kill their most beloved friends, grandparents, and neighbors.

But this was also the year I saw people I thought were decent humans buy into conspiracy theories about the fatality of a virus that was literally overflowing the morgues in NYC. It was the year of people lying about their COVID positive status and knowingly spreading their germs to others. It was the year I saw people lie about unmasked vacations to avoid quarantine rules. It was the year I saw folks completely and vehemently unwilling to put a mask over their face to go into a drug store, and who campaigned against requiring face masks in school buildings.

Bottom line? This was the year I kind of lost all faith in humanity … well, a portion of it, anyway.

So you’ll forgive me when I saw the recent CDC guidance update about masks for fully vaccinated people, and my first thought was, “Does the CDC not know that people are going to lie their asses off about their vaccination status?”

Basically, the new CDC guidelines say this: If you are a fully vaccinated person, you don’t have to wear a mask in most inside and outside spaces. You also don’t need to socially distance if you are fully vaccinated.

There are a few small caveats. The guidance still requires masks on public transportation, including in airports and on airplanes. And you need to still wear a mask at doctor’s offices, hospitals, and long-term care facilities. Masks will also still be recommended in prison and jails, and at homeless shelters.

Of course, it remains to be seen what individual states will do in terms of mask guidelines. But from how this sounds, I could go into my local CVS right now, and suddenly see hordes of unmasked people clumped together in the candy aisle, yammering on with each other, their spittle flying all over the place. And basically, if they are vaccinated (or supposedly vaccinated) that’s TOTALLY FINE.

WTAF. I’m sorry, but no. Nope. Nopety-nope.

First off all, as I mentioned before, does the CDC think that people are going to be honest about this? It’s basically an honor system, because we don’t require vaccination passports in America or any proof that you have been vaccinated.

And yes, from a theoretical point-of-view, the CDC is correct in thinking that vaccinated people do not pose much of a threat to each other or to others. As The New York Times mentions, in real life situations, based on a study out of Israel, the Pfizer vaccine was “97 percent effective at preventing symptomatic infections among the fully vaccinated, and 86 percent effective at preventing asymptomatic infections among them.”

But again, this is all theoretical, and doesn’t take into account what’s gonna happen in real life. It assumes that people will tell the truth about their vaccinated status, and as I mentioned before, we know from the past year that truth telling and rule abiding is not something many of us have proven to be experts at. To put it mildly.

Besides that, the CDC is assuming all of us know what it means to be “fully vaccinated.” As the Times points out, more people are getting vaccinated every day, but only one third of the nation is actually fully vaccinated. How many people do you know who have gotten one shot, and been like, “I’m vaccinated, let’s party”?

No, Sally, you don’t get full protection till two weeks after your second vaccination (if you got a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine) or one week after your Johnson and Johnson vaccination.

All of which bring me to perhaps my biggest problem with all of this: The fact that only a third of America is fully vaccinated means that millions of us are vulnerable to COVID. Those same questionably vaccinated people or partially vaccinated folks now slobbering over us at CVS? They may be infecting the person who has a comorbidity that would make them more likely to die of COVID. They may be infecting someone who will unknowingly bring the virus home to a grandparent who hasn’t been able to access a vaccine yet.

Let’s also not forget that there are many people for whom vaccines do not work—immunocompromised people, for example, or organ recipients. And lest we forget that most children have not been vaccinated, and children under the age of 12 won’t be eligible for vaccines till this coming fall. I have an asthmatic 8-year-old who sure as hell doesn’t need to pick up COVID because Joe-unmasked-unvaccinated-liar is standing next to him at the toy store.

And don’t get me started on breakthrough infections among vaccinated people. Yeah, they are rare. But yes, they happen. And the more you mix unmasked vaccinated and unvaccinated people in a room, the more likely they are to happen.

According to experts, the reasoning for doing this whole thing is partially to give people who are on the fence about vaccination an incentive to get the job. The idea is that if getting vaccinated still means that you have to wear a mask when you go to the grocery store, what’s the point?

Giving vaccinated people the privilege of living the mask free life makes sense, Angela Rasmussen, virologist at Vaccine and Infectious Diseases Organization in Canada, told the Times. Forgoing these requirements “is another incentive that is extremely low cost and is very much supported by evidence,” she said.

Honestly, I call bullshit. The people who are refusing vaccines are also the ones who already don’t give a shit about mask mandates in the first place. Do we really think that dangling the “mask free” carrot in front of their faces is going to do a damn thing? I think not.

All of this brings me back to my original point. The pandemic has proven to us that a large portion of our population doesn’t give a crap about the safety of their fellow citizens. So forgive me if I’m finding these new mask recommendations unsettling, baffling, and a bit infuriating. Forgive me if I’m traumatized by the fact of almost 600K people dying in one year of a very contagious virus that is still spreading in this country.

I’m fully vaccinated as of two weeks ago. And you bet your bippy I’ll be wearing my masks next time I set foot in my local CVS … if I even do that anytime soon, given this new guidance.

Until infections come to a standstill in this country, and anyone who wants a vaccine can get one (including children), wearing a mask in indoor settings—especially in public settings where a person’s vaccination status is unknown—seems to me a sign of respect, safety, and love. I’d say the world needs more of that right now, don’t you?

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