Millions of Americans were caught off guard last week when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that fully vaccinated Americans don’t have to wear face masks in most settings, including indoors and out, but masks are still required on public transit and in healthcare settings. They’re also required wherever local mandates and businesses still require them. After months of wearing masks and avoiding large gatherings, the U.S. has finally reached a turning point in the fight against COVID-19.
However, many healthcare professionals and organizations have come out against the CDC’s new guidelines, including National Nurses United (NNU), the nation’s largest nurses’ union.
Is It Time to Take Off Our Masks?
The latest statistics show that just 36% of the country’s population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, but as many people have pointed out over the last few days, there’s no way to tell them apart from those who remain unvaccinated.
According to the CDC, “Fully vaccinated people can resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal or territorial laws, rules and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.”
Every store, business, county, and state will have to decide what’s best for its customers or residents, which can lead to confusion among everyday Americans. However, some of the nation’s largest retailers, including Costco, Walmart, and Starbucks, have announced they will no longer require masks for vaccinated customers.
Proponents of the idea say that Americans need more of an incentive to get their shots. The new CDC guidelines may help convince more people to roll up their sleeves if it means taking off their masks, but it could also further discredit the CDC, which has received mixed reviews over the course of the pandemic. A recent poll found that just 52% of Americans put a lot of trust in the agency.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director of the CDC, recently appeared on NBC News to talk about the agency’s decision. “Right now, the data, the science shows us that it’s safe for vaccinated people to take off their masks. I, as the CDC director, promised the American people I would convey that science to you as we know it.”
She added that the new guidelines come down to trust and personal responsibility. “We are asking people to be honest with themselves. If they are vaccinated and they are not wearing a mask, they are safe. If they are not vaccinated and they are not wearing a mask, they are not safe.”
The NNU Isn’t Buying It
Just a couple days after the CDC changed its guidelines for vaccinated Americans, NNU Executive Director Bonnie Castillo issued a statement in protest. “This newest CDC guidance is not based on science, does not protect public health, and threatens the lives of patients, nurses, and other frontline workers across the country,” she said.
After a brutal year on the front lines of the pandemic, Castillo is looking out for her colleagues. “Now is not the time to relax protective measures, and we are outraged that the CDC has done just that while we are still in the midst of the deadliest pandemic in a century,” she continued.
The union says the decision undermines workplace safety, especially since the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has yet to implement an emergency temporary standard (ETS) for preventing COVID-19 infections in the workplace.
“CDC issued this new guidance even though the Occupational Safety and Health Administration emergency temporary standard mandated by President Biden’s Jan. 21 executive order has been delayed for two months. This lack of protection compounds the dangers that nurses and other essential workers continue to face on the job,” Castillo added.
Dr. Leana Wen, a George Washington University public health professor, was equally caught off guard by the change in guidelines. “CDC seems to have gone from one extreme of over-caution to another of basically throwing caution out the window,” Wen said.
Nurses clearly want to stay safe on the job, and these new guidelines could lead to a surge in new cases, especially in areas where many people have been hesitant to get the vaccine. The U.S. says it won’t require vaccine passports or proof of vaccination, so there’s no way to know whether a person is vaccinated or if they just don’t like wearing a mask.
Despite their concerns, Walensky continues to defend the agency’s decision. “It was going to be nearly impossible for us to revise all, thousands of pages of our guidance simultaneously, and release it all, one at a time. We needed this building block, this first step, so we could say: This is the science upon which all future guidance will be based upon.”
Is it time for vaccinated Americans to hang up their masks? Only time will tell. Let us know what you think in the comments below.