Masks Are Back

New CDC guidelines are calling for increased use of masks, including for fully vaccinated people. It’s about time.

In May, I warned that the CDC’s loosening of mask mandates for vaccinated Americans was an ill-advised decision that would cause an increase in covid-19 cases. It did. The virus’s new Delta variant has taken hold in this country; close to 90 percent of new cases are caused by the Delta variant, which is many times more easily transmitted than the older versions of the virus.

The old wisdom said that masks were not needed for contact with others that lasted for less than fifteen minutes. That may have been true for the old virus. The new, improved Delta version can be transmitted in five to ten SECONDS, and is easily transmitted outdoors as well as indoors.

Predictably, the CDC has now backtracked on its advice. New guidelines out Tuesday are calling for masks to be worn indoors, even by fully vaccinated people, in all parts of the country that are classified as posing a “substantial” risk for infection. Most counties in the nation fall into that category. My city certainly does.

I never stopped wearing a mask indoors, and have also been wearing one outdoors, unless I know I will be far distanced from other people. So my behavior won’t change, except that I’ll feel better about going into the grocery store than I have since the mask mandate lifted in May.

Yes, wearing a mask sucks. And while some of the blame goes to the CDC for relaxing the rules just as Delta began spreading like wildfire across the country, much of it has to go to the many, many people in this country who could have been vaccinated, yet chose not to. Now we will all wear masks to protect them. Of course, we’re also trying to protect those who cannot get vaccinated even if they do want to; the vaccine has not yet been approved for children under 12.

I don’t mind masking up to protect myself, children, and people who have medical conditions or allergies that make the vaccine ineffective or dangerous for them. I do mind having to take any steps at all to protect willfully ignorant, self-centered jerks who don’t believe in science and think they have no responsibility to the rest of society.

Not everyone who isn’t vaccinated is avoiding it out of fear, ignorance, or overexposure to Fox News. We also need to break down the barriers that are still keeping others who want to from getting vaccinated: some do not have transportation to vaccination sites, have to work during the hours that vaccination events are happening, or cannot take time off work both to get vaccinated and possibly to spend a day or so afterward with the side effects the vaccine can cause. Some are undocumented immigrants who are afraid that showing up at a vaccination site puts them at risk of deportation. We need to address those concerns, take steps to ensure that employees’ jobs are not at risk, and provide walk-in vaccination sites or easy, convenient transportation to vaccination sites.

But the fact remains that a large minority of the public just does not want the vaccine. I’m at the point of thinking I would just not care if they all came down with the virus — except that they would transmit it to others who do not have a choice.

I read a meme this week that says we should rethink the phrase “avoid it like the plague,” now that we have an actual plague and know that so many people would do nothing at all to avoid it. For them, maybe “avoid it like the truth” is more appropriate.

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