As I See It – I’m confused: Lifting of the mask requirement sends mixed emotions, actions

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I don’t know whom to follow: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), my local government, my company, or the establishments I go to? 

This was the question of my friend who told me the lifting of the mask requirement by CDC confused him on what to do. He also mentioned that there were instances of petty quarrels by customers vs store staff and customers vs customers not wearing mask. 

This came even when the debate of wearing masks has been ongoing, especially to those who consider the corona virus as not a pandemic but just a mad creation of a few (conspiracy theory). 

According to Sujata Guptsa, Tina Hesman Saey and Erin Gracia de Jesus (Jeff Gritchen/MediaNews Group Orange County Register via Getty Images): “The most recent federal guidance on wearing masks offered a glimmer of hope that the pandemic’s end was inching closer, but it has also caused confusion, anger and worry. On May 13, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Preventionrecommended that fully vaccinated individuals no longer had to wear masks indoors, except in hospitals, on public transit and in other specified places. In that directive, there was incentive for people who hadn’t yet been vaccinated against COVID-19 to go get their shots, but the guidance also left even experts wondering what it meant for individuals and society as a whole.”

This brings confusion to many also who interpreted it differently. “Some unfortunately interpreted this guidance as an immediate end to the indoor mask mandates or that the COVID-19 epidemic is essentially over,” Jeffrey Duchin, a public health expert with Public Health – Seattle & King County, told reporters in an Infectious Diseases Society of America news briefing on May 20. 

Duchin was right because the United States is still recording more than 24,000 cases and about 500 deaths each day from COVID-19. That’s the lowest level in the last 10 months, Gregory Poland, an infectious diseases expert who heads the Mayo Clinic’s Vaccine Research Group in Rochester, Minn., said May 18 in a podcast. “But only 38 percent of the toal population was fully vaccinated by May 20,” according to the CDC. This is what makes the confusion even more confusing. 

Medical experts are confused too! The recommendation that vaccinated people could forgo masks caught experts off guard, Poland said. “We are only just now getting to a reduced level over the last two weeks of cases, deaths and hospitalizations. By the way, we were at this same level almost one year ago and look at what happened in the intervening year.” With the current levels of vaccination, “this feels a month or two premature in my mind,” he said.

The CDC’s new guidance assumes that unvaccinated individuals will continue masking, even though people in the United States are not required to show proof of vaccination. This honor system is in contrast to Israel, where vaccinated individuals carry vaccine passports called Green Passes that grant them admission 

Take this out! When the CDC said vaccinated people could go without masks, “it made it more difficult for governors and mayors, companies and universities to have policies that still protect some of their vulnerable populations,” says Julie Swann, a disease modeler and health systems expert at North Carolina State University in Raleigh.

To shape their policy on this issue, local governments have to factor in things like “how widely the virus is spreading locally and local vaccination rates, the prevalence of more contagious variants, and the efficacy of the vaccine they got.”

Robert Wachter, chair of the department of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco tweeted that he would go maskless indoors under three conditions: If everyone in the room has been vaccinated; If any unvaccinated people present are wearing masks; and and/or if the local COVID-19 rate is so low that it’s unlikely that an unmasked, unvaccinated person might carry the virus.

This leads us to another question: “If the decision to wear a mask is left to each individual, what are the social costs?”  Unvaccinated people who incorrectly interpret CDC’s guidelines to mean that they don’t need to wear a mask, “will have neither the protection of the mask, nor the protection of the vaccine,” Gounder says. Vaccinated people “might think, ‘Oh, it’s not my problem. They’re just infecting one another.’” That’s not entirely true, because children younger than 12 aren’t eligible for the vaccine yet and there are people who have been vaccinated but remain vulnerable to infection because of weakened immune systems.

COVID-19 spreading among the unvaccinated carries other costs, too, she said. “When those people end up in the hospital, if they have private insurance, those costs get passed on to others as higher insurance premiums. If the person is on a government health plan, such as Medicare, Medicaid or Tricare for military members and their families, the costs are passed on to taxpayers. And if the person has no insurance, hospitals pass costs on to other patients. “It’s not like this is cost-free and doesn’t impact the rest of us, too.”

Steven P. Dinkin “The San Diego Union-Tribune” said as mask mandate is lifted, confusion comes to California. It’s a big week for Californians. On Tuesday, the state will officially reopen its economy, following a 15-month, COVID-induced hibernation. It’s the day we bid farewell to mask mandates and other restrictions, like maximum occupancy rates. The four-tiered, color-coded system of assigning risk, by county, will disappear.

But is it really time to rejoice? Gov. Gavin Newsom doesn’t sound confident. As he drew the first batch of vaccine lottery winners on June 4, Newsom revealed that California’s state of emergency will be continuing. “This disease has not been extinguished. It’s not taking the summer months off,” Newsom said.

So, is California ready? “We absolutely are,” said Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, the vice dean for population health and health equity at the School of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.

Dr. Bibbins-Domingo cited the state’s low case rates have been stable, and the state’s vaccination rates are high overall. That, however, doesn’t mean Dr. Bibbins-Domingo is without worry… he cannot ignore the fact that the pandemic is still around!  And…there are still pockets where fewer people are vaccinated, which means that the virus — and particularly any virulent variants — could spread more easily through a given community.

Dr. Bibbins-Domingo said the push to reopen should be coupled with significant infrastructure in place to verify people’s vaccination status or ensure that vulnerable Californians who work in higher-risk settings, such as meatpacking plants or factories, are protected.

And finally, she said, as the world reopens, it’s imperative that public health departments continue to get support and funding to properly track outbreaks and monitor any new diseases so people will be safe.

From a business perspective, when the masks will be lifted, the capacity restrictions on businesses, as well as physical distancing requirements, are going to be lifted too paving the way for businesses to operate the way they were before the pandemic. This new normal hope to bring back the economy standing again… but will there be no more surge? Is this a gamble? I hope not!

From a government perspective, things are little more complicated. Rules for masking up at workplaces fall under the purview of the state’s Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board (OSHSB), which has reversed course multiple times, leading to some confusion.

So, despite the lifting by CDC, there is no federal mandate (from the top) to require everybody to not to wear masks. It boils down to local governments, business establishments, schools, political and non-political institutions, etc. to wear mask or not. 

Isn’t this a confusing situation?

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