On May 13, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) rolled out a new set of COVID-19 guidelines that have already begun to influence states, local governments, and company policies. While many people have welcomed these guidelines as good news, some are concerned about the effects the guidelines will have on the state of the virus.
The most significant change that the new guidelines delineate is that people who are fully vaccinated are no longer required to wear a mask. According to the CDC, a person is considered to be fully vaccinated two weeks after they have received their second dose. That being said, the CDC has advised that people will still need to follow state, communal, and individual company guidelines. Moreover, travel restrictions and procedures have been modified as well. Within the U.S., domestic travelers will no longer have to provide a COVID-19 test, but overseas travelers will still be obligated to get tested before boarding an international flight to the U.S. Wearing masks on public transportation will also continue as a mandate.
The CDC released the new guidelines after reviewing the data on the effectiveness of the numerous CDC-approved COVID-19 vaccines. According to the CDC, all approved vaccines demonstrated between a 65% to 95% efficacy range in preventing asymptomatic cases. In the case that a vaccinated individual did get infected, the vaccine was 89% successful in preventing severe cases and death. In the U.S., the Pfizer, Moderna, and BioNtech vaccines were all found to be 89% effective in preventing infection in the United States. These same vaccines also demonstrated an 80% reduction in asymptomatic infection and transmission after the first dose. The vaccines became even more effective in the aforementioned criteria after the second dose was administered. This information is what led the CDC to determine that it was no longer necessary to require fully vaccinated individuals to wear a mask in most situations, which the agency hopes will work as an incentive for people to get inoculated.
Although many Americans are looking forward to finally discarding their masks and see the new guidelines as a light at the end of the tunnel, some people are a little apprehensive because of how abruptly the CDC disseminated the information. Angie, who was interviewed by National Public Radio (NPR) while walking through a Seattle neighborhood, said, “Turning on a dime and stopping wearing masks, even if I'm fully vaccinated, just feels very sudden." Meanwhile, others are skeptical of the honor system that the new guidelines will rely on. Jillian Rose, who was waiting in line to get her COVID-19 vaccine when she was interviewed by NPR, said, “I don't trust other people." Critics of the CDC claim that some of the hesitancy around the new guidelines could have been avoided had the agency given some notice leading up to the updated regulations.
The new recommendations released by the CDC came as a surprise to many health officials and epidemiologists, as well. The New York Times surveyed 723 epidemiologists in the United States and found that only 5% predicted that Americans would not have to wear masks indoors this summer; on the other hand, 80% thought that Americans would have to continue to wear masks for at least another year. To a lot of people, the thought of wearing a mask for another year may sound crazy, but the high number of epidemiologists that responded this way could be explained by the fact that around three-quarters of those surveyed described themselves as risk-averse. One epidemiologist at the Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council, Sophia K., had a more pragmatic expectation as she believes “that most people will refuse to wear masks, even in public, by the end of 2021, whether there is still a pandemic or not.”
It seems the majority of public health officials are against taking the mask off, but some consider the decision long overdue. Leana Wen, a former health commissioner of Baltimore, expressed such a sentiment to Business Insider: "Once people are fully vaccinated, they are not a threat to public health and they should be able to resume all aspects of pre-pandemic normal if they so choose." This is contrary to the criticism that the CDC is facing from individuals that think the agency acted too early. Those who agree with Leana feel that the CDC should have made this decision when they first received information on the matter.
For many, when they look at the vaccine's effectiveness the guidelines seem like a good decision. Others think it would be better to err on the side of caution and keep the masks on. Optimistically, the conflicting reactions brought upon by the new guidelines will be resolved as we see the effects that they have on the pandemic. Only time will tell if people will be able to continue to resume their pre-pandemic lives, or if the CDC will have to revert to more restrictive guidelines once again.