New Mask Rules: The CDC’s Side of the Story

Dear Rich Lifer,

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that fully vaccinated people could start unmasking indoors or outdoors except in specific situations, such as while riding public transportation or visiting hospitals. 

This latest guidance is an exciting step forward after over a year of masking. But it quickly caused confusion for state and local officials, private companies, and individuals. 

We know there has been constant change over the past year, and keeping up with the guidelines, rules and regulations has caused many headaches and uncertainty. So today, we will attempt to clarify this new update so we can all move forward safely… 

What Does Fully Vaccinated Mean? 

The first thing you need to know about these new guidelines is that they only apply to people who are fully vaccinated. 

The CDC considers people fully vaccinated either two weeks after their second shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or two weeks after getting the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine. 

Dr. Walensky said unvaccinated people remain at risk and should continue to wear masks and get vaccinated as soon as possible.

Now that we are all on the same page, let’s get into the details of the new ordnance.

Can I Fully Ditch My Mask?

Long story short, no. There are limits to where fully vaccinated people can be maskless. 

According to the CDC guidelines, here are the places where all people, even fully vaccinated ones, are still required to wear a mask: “on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation traveling into, within, or out of the United States, and in U.S. transportation hubs such as airports and stations.”

They must also wear masks “where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance. Fully vaccinated people should also continue to wear a well-fitted mask in correctional facilities and homeless shelters.” 

The CDC also added a caveat to their website regarding masking in school which states, “CDC recommends schools continue to use the COVID-19 prevention strategies outlined in the current version of CDC’s Operational Strategy for K-12 Schools for at least the remainder of the 2020-2021 academic school year.” 

Why the Sudden Change? 

One reason why the CDC’s announcement was shocking to some was that it came, seemingly, out of nowhere, after over a year of dire warnings that mask-wearing is crucial to protecting yourself and others from coronavirus. 

Dr. Walensky cited two recent scientific findings as the main factors for the abrupt reversal: Few vaccinated people become infected with the virus, and transmission seems even rarer; and the vaccines appear to be effective against all known variants of the coronavirus.

The study released showed that the vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are 94% effective in preventing symptomatic illness in those who were fully vaccinated and 82% effective in those only partially vaccinated.

A lingering concern among scientists had been whether vaccinated people can carry the virus while being asymptomatic and thus spread the virus to others unknowingly. However, CDC research, including the new study, has consistently found few infections among those who received the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines.

In a statement Friday, Dr. Walensky stated, “This study, added to the many studies that preceded it, was pivotal to CDC changing its recommendations for those who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19.”

How Does This Affect Local Rules? 

The new CDC guidelines do not overrule and state or local mandates that are in place. However, states across the country began to update their public-health guidances quickly after the CDC made their announcement.

Research from the Kaiser Family Foundation showed that before last Thursday, 26 states and the District of Columbia had statewide mask mandates still in place. Almost all of those states have now updated their masking policies to align with CDC guidelines. 

Some states are still reviewing their guidelines, like New York and New Jersey. Other states, like Maine and Kentucky, used the guidelines to announce plans to end mask mandates in the coming weeks so that residents have time to get vaccinated. 

While governors can make executive orders to remove their state’s mask mandates, this still leaves many businesses struggling to make their own decisions regarding the new update. 

How Are Companies Responding? 

The new policy left stores, restaurants and businesses with decisions of their own to make. 

The United Food and Commercial Workers union, which represents thousands of grocery store workers, criticized the CDC for not considering how the new policy would affect workers who have to deal with unvaccinated customers. 

President Marc Perrone remarked, “Millions of Americans are doing the right thing and getting vaccinated, but essential workers are still forced to play ‘mask police’ for shoppers who are unvaccinated and refuse to follow local Covid safety measures.” 

The Retail Industry Leaders Association, a trade group, said the guidance complicated matters in states that still have mask mandates in place that retailers must follow. 

Major retailers are reassessing rules for employees and customers. Two leaders in the field, Walmart and Costco, have announced that they wouldn’t make vaccinated customers or employees wear masks in jurisdictions that don’t require them. 

Additionally, executives are meeting to discuss work-from-home policies and how these new guidelines affect the timeline of bringing employees back into offices. 

Right now, many seem frustrated that the guidelines seem to put the most pressure on individuals to continue to make judgement calls for themselves. 

Zoë McLaren, an associate professor in the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, stated, “There’s what the science says, there’s what logistics we have, and there’s what people feel comfortable doing. Those are three very different things, and the CDC is trying to balance all of those things.” 

To a Richer Life,

The Rich Life Roadmap Team 

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