DENVER – The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) last week said fully vaccinated people can now ditch the masks in most settings and can stop socially distancing, hoping that incentivizing people with less restrictions will create an uptick in vaccinations, which have seen a decrease over the past month.
News of the drastic change from the CDC came as surprise to many public health experts in the fields of epidemiology, virology and infectious disease, who expected mask wearing to last at least another year, according to the New York Times.
The question now is: Will the CDC’s plan work?
“I’m excited to be able to go without masks and see more people,” Hannah Hassell told Denver7 outside Ball Arena after getting her first shot Monday. “It’s been a struggle wearing these all the time. I was ready.”
Dr. Michelle Barron, the medical director of infection control and prevention at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital, said the latest guidance from the CDC was meant to show people who are still on the fence about getting the vaccine some of the benefits that come with it, besides protecting yourself from COVID-19, though she admitted she was a bit nervous about how people were going to take the information.
“Obviously there was some debate at the beginning of, ‘why should I get a vaccine if nothing changes? and I think, obviously, there needed to be good scientific data to be able to support these decisions and with that data now, I think now is the time they’re trying to push it even further and say, ‘Guys, it really makes a difference in terms of your personal health, but guess what? You now aren’t subject to all these crazy rules about 6 feet apart and wearing your mask – but you have to be fully vaccinated.”
Still, public health experts across the country say the move threatens to hamper the efforts the country has made in getting control of the novel coronavirus.
In a CNN op-ed posted a day after the CDC told the country about the new mask guidance, public health experts laid out six major concerns they had about the agency’s decision, arguing that if the pandemic gets worse, “this will be a hard policy to reverse.”
A day later, the country’s largest union of registered nurses said it was outraged by the new guidance which they said was “not based on science, does not protect public health, and threatens the lives of patients, nurses, and other frontline workers across the country.”
“I think people are going to argue we do things too soon, we do them too late; there’s never going to be a happy medium,” Dr. Barron said. “I think at the end of the day the information is important, it was based on good science and if it does allow for this and if it incentivizes people, fantastic. I do think the key piece to this is to not be complacent about your own health.”
Brynna Immel, who is graduating from high school this Friday, told Denver7 she got vaccinated because it felt good knowing she’s helping the community.
“I’m going to hopefully travel with my family and friends so I hope that now that I’m vaccinated it will be easier to be safe for myself and for my family and friends,” Immel said, adding she’ll still wear a mask in public despite Colorado easing mask and capacity restrictions in most settings across the state.
Dr. Barron did have one criticism of the way in which the CDC delivered its message to the public last Thursday.
“Maybe could’ve been a little bit better about saying, ‘OK, if you’re going into a healthcare setting, you’ve got to wear a mask. If you’re immunocompromised, you probably still want to wear a mask. If you have vulnerable people in your household, it still maybe makes sense for you to wear a mask.”
For Brynna’s father, Jerry, the move by the CDC left him with some mixed feelings, but at the end of the day, he said he’s thrilled about the possibilities of returning to a more normal way of life.
“I was excited about that and I hope that it does encourage those who aren’t vaccinated and who are on the fence about it to get vaccinated, so I’m hopeful that’s a motivation for more people to get vaccinated,” Jerry Immel said.
Will he do away with the mask now that he’s vaccinated?
“No, probably not for now if I’m indoors,” he said. “I’m not wearing one outdoors any longer if I can socially distance, but if I’m indoors, if a merchant wants us to wear a mask, I’ll wear a mask, it just depends on the situation.”
Health experts like Dr. Barron said, in the end, it’ll be up to the individual to assess their own level of risk during the pandemic ,but cautioned that the mask guidance is supposed to be an incentive and not a free-for-all.
“Maybe you’re going to still wear masks and that’s OK, there’s nothing wrong with that, or maybe you finally have that freedom to not wear it and that’s also fantastic news,” Dr. Barron said. “At the end of the day, get your vaccine. It’s really what we want.”
Since expanding vaccinations to kids as young as 12 last Friday, the state saw more than 17,500 people in that age group vaccinated; 20% of those at a community vaccination site, per vaccine intake data provided to Denver7. The state says nearly half of all eligible Coloradans (48.7%) are now fully vaccinated.