The Centers for Disease Control, as some may say, took an important step in Thursday’s pandemic, changing their guidelines on wearing inner masks for people who have been vaccinated. It’s a move that seems aimed at encouraging more people to get vaccinated, but is anyone really listening to the CDC where it matters and will this really get one of the really vaccine hesitant people to stop their shots to get?
The CDC may just catch up with the current trend – and even in San Francisco you won’t see many masks in indoor restaurants because most people eat or drink and feel vaccinated and carefree. But there are many parts of the country where vaccination rates are far lower and where indoor spaces like bars and bowling alleys have been open without restriction for months.
And there are other places, including California, that have mask mandates in place for at least another month. For example, in Minnesota, where only 34% of the population is fully vaccinated, most corporate capacity restrictions are lifted within two weeks. However, Governor Tim Walz said the mask mandate will not be lifted until 70% of the population aged 16 and over has been vaccinated.
In places where there are many people hesitating about vaccines, today’s announcement may fall on deaf ears – as many of those people have long since returned to their normal lives regardless of whether or not they got their shots. But the CDC tells anyone who will listen that vaccinated people – as long as their county allows – with few exceptions, can shed their masks in the grocery store and in all indoor and outdoor areas.
These exceptions are: hospitals and doctor’s offices, long-term care facilities; crowded modes of transport such as buses, planes, or trains; Prisons; Homeless shelters; and busy public places like airports and bus stops.
Dr. Anthony Fauci stepped out ahead of the announcement earlier today, saying in an interview with the New York Times, “We need to liberalize restrictions so people can feel like they’re going back to normal. Inner masks are an important step in the right direction.”
He added, “You can’t stop people from doing the things they want to do. This is one of the reasons they wanted to get vaccinated in the first place because other people aren’t getting vaccinated.” And he said, “For those who are risk averse, the choice is yours to keep wearing it if you want.”
There’s virtually no doubt that San Francisco isn’t going to lift all mask restrictions just yet – and even when the CDC, based on generally accepted scientific evidence, recommended that masks be no longer required on sidewalks and outdoors, SF took an extra week to do so . And maybe that’s a good thing since everyone is so used to the masks now – and as I said, the cases haven’t dropped to zero. There’s also no way of knowing who has and hasn’t been vaccinated, and as summer approaches, SF may again be filled with tourists from other places where vaccination selfies don’t matter.
As the Times reports, the CDC has been under pressure to lift restrictions faster, especially for vaccinated Americans – with some suggesting that the cautious approach so far indicates a lack of confidence in the vaccines themselves. So-called real studies on the vaccines, however, have little to fear that breakthrough infections or variants are resistant to vaccines – thousands of study participants were vaccinated as early as December. The thousands of people who were vaccinated during clinical trials last year are also not infected with new strains.
California Governor Gavin Newsom gave a much-cited interview this week in which he said the state will largely lift its mask mandate from June 15 – including bars, restaurants, gyms and other indoor spaces. He said masks would only be required in “massively large environments where people from all over the world, not just across the country, come together and where people mingle in really tight spaces”.
To date, children ages 12-15 can be vaccinated in San Francisco and elsewhere in the Bay Area – and Mayor London Breed noted on Twitter that this represents about 25,000 more San Franciscans joining the scheme. While children don’t get sick with COVID-19 in large numbers, they can transmit the virus and pass it on to vulnerable family members and teachers.
Unfortunately, the fact that the CDC is no longer the universally trustworthy government organization it once was adds to the potential futility of the CDC’s announcement about masks. Thanks to Trump – who managed to damage a lot of confidence in a lot of things, despite accomplishing very little as president – and perhaps thanks to the CDC’s early failures in terms of containing the coronavirus or asking us to wear masks First and foremost, only about half of Americans say they have “a lot” of confidence in the CDC. That came from a report released this month by the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
“Despite widespread awareness and recognition of the vital role public health authorities play in protecting and promoting the health of the public and vulnerable groups, this survey shows … that the American public has greater confidence in health professionals than it does Public Health Institutions and Agencies People give mixed ratings on the job performance of health officials, and a significant minority of the public do not trust health information shared by their state and local health departments, “the report said.
To update: The San Francisco Department of Health says it will wait for the state to update its masking recommendation before making changes in the field.
As we recently did with the new external masking guidelines for fully vaccinated people, we must wait for the state to pass the updated guidelines before making any changes to the local health regime that we believe are safe. (2/4)
– SFDPH (@SF_DPH) May 13, 2021
“We know that people like to take off their masks. The quickest way to get to a safe place is to have any eligible person vaccinated as soon as possible,” the department said on Twitter.
Connected: Newsom says masks won’t be needed in “massively large environments” until after June 15
Photo: Getty Images