The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced new recommendations for the use of masks and other precautions in regard to vaccinated people on Tuesday, April 27. The new guidelines suggest that fully vaccinated individuals can safely choose to not wear a mask or socially distance when outdoors, as long as they are not in crowded areas.
President Joe Biden was quick to capitalize on this announcement, declaring that this reflects the extraordinary progress his administration has made in the fight against COVID-19. Hopkins was fast to react, as well. On Friday, the school administration announced that they would no longer mandate students to wear face coverings outdoors on campus, regardless of their vaccination status – though non-vaccinated students are “strongly recommended” to continue to do so.
Throughout this pandemic, one of the questions most frequently asked has been “when are we going to go back to ‘normal’?” It is therefore understandable to celebrate this progress as a sign of hope for the end of this global health emergency. For individuals who have been responsible from the very beginning — staying home, wearing masks, social distancing and getting vaccinated — the news that they can now somewhat relax in their precautions provides a sigh of relief.
It also makes sense for Biden to recognize any loosening of restrictions or guidelines because it provides evidence of his success in dealing with COVID-19, something he has garnered approval for.
One could make a case that celebrating the new guidelines is beneficial in promoting the effectiveness of getting the vaccine, as it is indisputable that the recent success of the U.S. has been made possible by over half the population receiving at least one dose.
However, the announcement from the CDC and the subsequent political marketing by the Biden administration presents risks doing more harm than good.
A poll by the University of Southern California’s Dornsife Center for Economic and Social Research showed that 83% of Americans supported wearing a mask; while this provides a clear majority in favor of science, it also shows that 17% of the population is still entirely against this precaution. More importantly, the same poll showed that only 51% of Americans regularly wore a mask.
If every member of the population believed in and adhered to the experts’ recommendations on the pandemic, the new guidelines regarding fully vaccinated individuals could be completely safe and rational. In reality, though any suggestion made by the CDC or the federal government stating that it is safe to forgo a mask is irresponsible and dangerous.
We live in a society where the most watched cable television host is on the air arguing that masks are only worn by “zealots and neurotics” as a sign of “political obedience” while encouraging his viewers to confront mask-wearing individuals in public and to call 911 when they see a child wearing a mask.
Already, the new CDC guidelines are being misconstrued. Following the CDC’s suggestion that individuals who are two weeks past being fully vaccinated may forgo wearing a mask in outdoor, uncrowded areas, right-wing outlets reported on this with the headline “CDC: Many Americans Can Now Go Outside Without Mask.”
The deliberately confusing coverage regarding the new guidelines can negatively impact not only anti-mask individuals such as former President Donald Trump, but also those who are in the unfortunate position of relying on major news outlets that they mistakenly believe to be objective and truthful.
Apart from the medical concerns regarding the new recommendations, celebrating the ability to not wear a mask outdoors reflects an unrealistic interpretation of the true difficulties of this pandemic. Over the last 14 months, small businesses have shut down, wages have deteriorated and people have fallen into poverty and homelessness. Most importantly, over three million individuals have died from COVID-19.
Having to wear a face covering when going outside pales in comparison to the hardships of COVID-19. If you are lucky enough that the most severe consequence of this pandemic on your life has been wearing a mask outdoors, the least you can do is keep wearing that mask.
Kerim Bali is a sophomore from Istanbul, Turkey studying Political Science. He is a member of A Place to Talk.