We are a nation of violators and survivors. Every time the government has issued a COVID-19 guidance during the pandemic, one part of the United States has ignored it, while another part has followed it to the letter, and more. Does the government say keep two meters away? Some Americans scoffed, while others did not set foot in a restaurant for a year. CDC decision to leave Vaccinated people who are unmasked are emerging as another similar division. Some picky guys just vaccinated might be thinking, Wait, should I wear a mask indoors anyway?
For some Americans, this is no longer an option. Hit by the rise in the COVID-19 case count as a result of the hyper-communicable Delta variant, Los Angeles County re-implemented an indoor mask mandate a few days ago. Unlike the mask guidelines elsewhere, the new rule applies to everyone, regardless of vaccination status. Other locations could soon follow.
This is disappointing, because vaccines were supposed to free us from face masks. Vaccination protects against COVID-19 extremely well, and asymptomatic vaccinated people are less likely to spread the coronavirus to others. Almost everyone 12 and older who wants a vaccine could have received one now for free, so vaccinated people may have little desire to protect their neighbors from vaccines. However, about 40 percent of Americans, disproportionately Republicans, refuse to get vaccinated, causing COVID-19 cases to spike and ruining the hot summer.
[Read: The liberals who can’t quit lockdown]
So if you don’t live in Los Angeles, should you keep putting on a mask at Trader Joe’s? Or sipping a cocktail between masks at a house party? I asked four experts and received … four different answers depending on your personal risk tolerance, life situation and geographic location. If you are vaccinated, you are justified in masking or not masking indoors. Here’s how to decide.
The case of wearing a mask indoors
Remember the multicolor coronavirus case count maps What do we think we could leave behind in 2020? It may be time to visit them again. If you live in an area with a lot of cases, some experts say, it might be worth wearing a mask indoors, even if you’re vaccinated. This is especially true in situations where you don’t know the vaccination status of everyone around you, such as in church or at a concert. “For example, I’m wearing a mask at the grocery store again, but I’m not wearing it at work, where I know almost everyone is vaccinated,” says Linsey Marr, an aerosol expert at Virginia Tech. Marr says she does it primarily for minimize the risk to her and her family, because although it is rare for the coronavirus to “pass through” and infect a vaccinated person, it can and is more likely to happen during a major COVID-19. outbreak. (Quiet, 97 percent of people who are hospitalized for COVID-19, and almost all who die from it, are not vaccinated).
Determining what constitutes an area with “many” cases remains complicated and subjective. Caitlin Rivers, an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, estimates the number at 10 cases per 100,000 people. Right now, many Missouri counties are above that threshold, as are parts of Florida, Texas, California, and other states.
[Read: Don’t be surprised when vaccinated people get infected]
According to Rivers, those vaccinated should remain masked inside these places until children under 12 can be vaccinated. “I don’t think we should give up mitigation until we can offer children the same protection that is provided to everyone else,” he says.
Although children are at low risk of becoming seriously ill with COVID-19, they could still transmit the coronavirus to unvaccinated people because they themselves are not vaccinated. Although your heart may not be broken by your local anti-vaccine conspiracy theorists, 2 to 4 percent of American adults are immunosuppressed, which means that COVID-19 vaccines They do not work also for them. By masking you protect yourself from serious infections, but you also protect children and the immunosuppressed.
The case against wearing a mask indoors
Those who advocate a return to indoor masking often say something like “What’s the matter? It’s just a mask! “But masks have drawbacks. They are hot, fogging up your glasses and muffling speech to the point where I have to yell” O! -L! -G! -A! “At each barista. Once everyone started masking, I stopped seeing my friends in person, because driving an hour just to look at someone’s eyes is not my idea of fun. Like many Americans, I was happy to wear a mask until the shots came, and I was happy to get rid of it once I got poked, few people would probably prefer to wear a mask every day if they didn’t have to.
And if you’re vaccinated, it’s technically not necessary. “I agree with what the CDC says: If you’re vaccinated, you don’t need to wear a mask, ”says Joseph Allen, an environmental epidemiologist at Harvard. Indoor masking may be reasonable in areas with large outbreaks, but a top-down masking mandate for the entire United States no longer makes sense, he says.
Allen worries that encouraging vaccinated people to keep masking undermines confidence in vaccines. You cannot claim to “believe in the science” unless you also believe in the science of vaccine efficacy. Living without masks can be a carrot too – look, if you get vaccinated, you can lose these things once and for all!
While technically there is a possibility that a vaccinated person will pass the virus to someone who transmits the virus to someone who has just received a bone marrow transplant, that risk is small. Especially if you are in a place like a grocery store. “We don’t think grocery stores are high-risk places,” says Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. If an immunosuppressed person comes into Walmart at the same time as you, a vaccinated person, “the amount of exposure you will create for that person is really low if you are asymptomatic.” Someone who is vaccinated and has no symptoms is likely not shedding enough virus to infect an immunosuppressed person as they silently pass each other in the cereal aisle. And the immunosuppressed could wear a high-quality mask to protect themselves, just in case.
Jha says she is not worried about catching the virus and passing it on to her 9-year-old son, who is still unable to get vaccinated. Sometimes when he goes to the grocery store in his highly vaccinated town, he doesn’t wear a mask, even though people look at him weird because, well, he’s Ashish Jha.
What’s more, the end of the masking doesn’t seem clear. Vaccination has slowed down, so when do we stop masking? If the mask commands return, says Jha, the cases will reappear when they are done. “This is not a long-term solution,” he says. “The long-term solution is to vaccinate more people.”
It is the unvaccinated who are putting everyone at risk. They can get sick, they can easily transmit the virus, and they keep the pandemic at its peak. Vaccines offer significantly better protection against COVID-19 than masks.* A national mask mandate, at this point, would be highly unpopular. Vaccination mandates for all indoor community settings would likely be unpopular as well. But they could do more to end the pandemic.
* This article originally said that masks reduce the risk of contracting the coronavirus by 65 percent and that vaccines reduce it by 94 percent. The actual percentages of protection against the Delta variant are less clear.