The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention relaxed indoor mask mandates last week for those who are fully vaccinated. But critics question the timing of the announcement with the majority of Americans still unvaccinated and without a proven way of knowing who has received their shots. According to healthcare experts, the new guidance may increase the transmission of COVID-19, reversing the current decline in new cases.
Some Republicans said that the sudden CDC announcement was intended as a distraction during a challenging week for the Biden Administration, according to Axios.
CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said that the surprise decision to update the mask-wearing guidelines was the result of new scientific evidence. She told reporters that very few vaccinated people have become infected with the virus, and transmission is even rarer. Walensky also said vaccines appear to be effective against all known variants of the coronavirus.
“This is not permission for widespread removal of masks. For those who are vaccinated, it may take some time for them to feel comfortable removing their masks,” she said. “But also, these decisions have to be made at the jurisdictional level, at the community level.”
Dr. Leana Wen told The Washington Post over the weekend that the CDC should not have removed restrictions without requiring proof of vaccination.
“There is no concurrent requirement for proof of vaccination,” Wen, a visiting professor of health policy and management at George Washington University, said in an opinion column for the Post. “Without it, the CDC announcement could end up increasing confusion, removing incentives for those yet to be inoculated and delaying the eventual goal of herd immunity that would get society truly back to normal.”
Wen said that after people reach the two-week threshold following inoculation, they should be free to decide for themselves which restrictions can be lifted safely.
“The problem is: You know what you’re doing, but you have no way to be confident of trusting everyone else,” she said, adding that vaccinated people with compromised immune systems are still at risk of going to the grocery stores and shopping among those who are not vaccinated. Wen said that people who shop with their children who do not yet have vaccines may be putting their kids at risk of COVID-19 if they are with unvaccinated, unmasked shoppers.
Wen said people who never wanted to wear masks in the first place and refuse to get inoculated will spread the virus amongst themselves, increasing the transmission rate of COVID-19 that has been steadily declining, according to the Post.
National Nurses United, the largest nurses union in the U.S., asked the CDC to reverse its guidance. Executive director Bonnie Castillo in a statement warned that relaxing mask mandates “is not based on science, does not protect public health, and threatens the lives of patients, nurses, and other frontline workers across the country.”
She added, “Now it not the time to relax protective measures, and we are outraged that the CDC has done just that while we are still in the midst of the deadliest pandemic in a century.”
According to Axios, several critics said their “blood is boiling” that the CDC was irresponsible enough to rely on an honor code to identify fully vaccinated people, adding that you can’t always trust the public to do the right thing.”
Others question how essential workers who have been playing the role of mask police for shoppers over the past year will be able to determine who has been vaccinated or not.
“Are they now supposed to become the vaccination police?” asked Marc Perrone, the president of the United food and Commercial Workers international Union, according to Axios.
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