Isn’t it great that the CDC has announced a new mask policy? It means the pandemic is about over, doesn’t it?
Well, no, not really. It means that although there are encouraging statistics, risk continues to surround us. It means that the CDC, perhaps prompted by growing reports of anti-maskers and anti-vaxers, recognized that the public is fed up with the pandemic and efforts to control it. The public, at least parts of it, was losing confidence in the CDC. In some ways, they had to take action.
I’m nervous about the new policies. In my opinion, they were premature. I would have preferred to wait another month or so to let more people get vaccinated and to see more signs that the pandemic is on the decline. But the CDC didn’t ask my opinion before announcing the new policies.
About 30 percent of us say we don’t want the vaccine. Also, we face the risk that a new, vaccine-resistant strain of the virus will appear. I’d like to know more about how much of a risk that is before giving up one of the most effective safeguards against infection. And, as you know, the virus is still rampant in India, South America, and other places.
And, most importantly, what about that false sense of euphoria that followed the CDC announcement? We are experiencing the high that comes in anticipation of freedom from masks, social distancing, closed restaurants, and a struggling economy.
I fear our false sense of euphoria will lead some of us, perhaps most of us, to do stupid things. Things like crowding into bars or onto beaches. Things like presuming that everyone we run into in public spaces, here on the Eastern Shore and everywhere else, is vaccinated. Things like assuming that a vaccinated person cannot spread the virus, etc., etc.
The announcement by the CDC took many people by surprise, including medical experts. That’s another red flag. News reports are replete with comments that the new standards may be premature by a week or two. Other reports emphasize that less than half the country is vaccinated. (Talbot County’s numbers, as readers of The Spy know, are fairly good. See this page).
Did the CDC act too hastily? Did it feel political pressure to accelerate a return to normalcy? Most importantly, did they do the right thing? Only time will tell. In the interim, those of us who are skeptical about the CDC’s actions, which prompted Governor Hogan to change his executive order, need to take matters into our own hands. We need to exceed the CDC guidelines and encourage others to do so.
First, before we get ahead of ourselves, why not look at the new CDC guidelines. Almost everyone I have talked to about the new standards since they were released, hasn’t read them. Their reaction, like my initial reaction, was based on news reports, some of which I subsequently learned were based on inadequate review of the facts. Surprise, surprise.
Also, local governments, unions, companies, and many commentators criticized the newly released guidelines, claiming they are too complicated. A visit to the CDC website explaining the new guidelines will convince you the critics are right.
Here is a distillation of the new guidelines from the CDC website:
- If you are fully vaccinated, you can resume activities that you did before the pandemic.
- Fully vaccinated people can resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial law, rules, and regulations, including local businesses and workplace guidance.
- If you haven’t been vaccinated yet, find a vaccine.
This seems simple enough, but individual businesses and state and local governmental authorities have the discretion to implement their own guidance. Thus, if you are out shopping, you may be required to wear a mask in one store and are free not to in the next store.
Governor Hogan updated requirements for Maryland on May 14. Importantly, masks are still required on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation traveling into, within or out of the U.S. and in U.S. transportation hubs such as airports and stations. Also, schools, where interaction with others is likely, still require masks. Of course, other exemptions apply to people with special needs or in situations where mask-wearing is not feasible or optimal.
While the Governor’s announcement was well-received, it represented a change in his plans. Just two days earlier, Hogan had announced that the mask mandate would remain in place until 70 percent of Marylanders were vaccinated. The CDC announcement prompted him to change his mind.
Given that multiple experts have expressed concern about the new guidelines, I’m worried. Typical of the experts is Ann O’Leary, healthcare advisor to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. Ms. O’Leary tweeted: “My blood is boiling that @CDCgov acted so irresponsibly to adopt an “honor code” for public mask-wearing. It’s not good public health advice to say to parents whose kids can’t get vaccinated, just trust the public to do the right thing.”
Ms. O’Leary has hit on one of the big problems with the new guidelines—they rely on honesty, voluntary compliance, and common sense from the public. Given that polls show a substantial number of people have decided not to get the vaccine, how do you know that the pleasant looking fellow you run into in Walmart has been vaccinated?
The answer is you don’t and can’t. There is no enforcement mechanism. And much to my personal disgust, some “entrepreneurs” are offering fake vaccination record cards for sale on the web.
All the above suggests that, yes, the CDC and Governor Hogan may have acted too hastily. That is, of course, water under the bridge. So, what should we do now?
Here are my suggestions:
Encourage everyone you know who is eligible for the vaccine and hasn’t gotten it, to do so, immediately. Share your personal experiences with them to help remove concerns they may have about its safety. More than 150 million people have now had more than one vaccine shot. It is clear the vaccines are safe for 99.9 percent of us.
Exceed the CDC guidelines by continuing to wear your mask.
If you choose not to wear a mask, that is your decision, but please, please do not give grief to any of us who choose to continue to wear them. Reports of people being harassed in stores and on the street are deeply troubling. If someone wants to make a small contribution to everyone else’s safety, let them do so in peace.
Use common sense in choosing your activities. The CDC did not say that mass gatherings are suddenly OK again. Already, we are seeing a lot of people returning to the beach, enjoying parks, and looking forward to attending sporting events. That’s great, but the pandemic isn’t over. If these mass gatherings get out of control, if social distancing is not practiced, we will have a resurgence in infections.
Finally, do your part to depoliticize the pandemic. Debating on whether President Trump gets credit for “Operation Warp Speed” and expediting the development of the vaccine, or whether he did a poor job in leading the country’s initial response, does not move the ball forward. Why not leave it to historians to figure that out later?
Right now, we still have a pandemic to fight. We need to use common sense. So, if you are like me, consider erring on the side of caution. If you’re not, please do not fault others when they do. Safer practices are better practices.
J.E. Dean of Oxford is a retired attorney and public affairs consultant writing on politics, government, birds, and occasionally goldendoodles.