The recent changes to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, last updated Sunday, have lifted a number of COVID-19 restrictions. Those who are fully vaccinated are now free to resume their daily lives prior to pandemic, completely maskless. Although everyone is still expected to comply with local business and workplace guidelines, many people who have received their full dose of the vaccine will no longer need to mask their faces or social distance.
While this is a big step toward a return to normalcy, we may be taking it too soon. According to Our World in Data, 40.1 percent of Pennsylvania’s population is now vaccinated. This is progress toward a fully-vaccinated state, but it still means a significant portion of the population may be susceptible to catching and spreading the coronavirus.
The new CDC guidelines place a huge burden on local businesses and average citizens to make judgment decisions affecting strangers. There is no reliable way (besides the “honor code”) to differentiate between those who are vaccinated and those who are not.
People who want to keep masking and social distancing guidelines in place no longer have the law to back them up. They’ll also find themselves at odds with a number of large corporations: Walmart, Costco, Starbucks and Trader Joe’s are just a few of the big names that have dropped restrictions for vaccinated customers.
This means that we all still have to continue being responsible about how we interact both with strangers and friends in the coming weeks. Owning up to whether you are vaccinated remains vitally important to the safety of those around you. There is room for some relaxation of the practices we have been exercising over the past year, but “safer” still does not mean “safe.”
On Tuesday, Drexel released a statement declaring that students with proof of vaccination will no longer be required to get tested starting on May 30, but masks still have to be worn inside Drexel buildings. The statement went on to say that those who are tested will be sent email confirmation to be used for travel and other activities. Other revisions on Drexel’s current restrictions will be announced in the coming weeks.
National Nurses United — the largest nurse’s union in the U.S. — condemned the relaxed rules last Friday, May 14. Executive Director Bonnie Castillo stated that the CDC’s decision is “not based on science, does not protect public health, and threatens the lives of patients, nurses, and other frontline workers across the country.” NNU warned that the changes would continue the high rate of COVID-19 cases, circulate variants of the virus and compound the danger that essential workers face.
There are, as the NNU also pointed out, many uncertainties about the effectiveness of vaccines as well, particularly against asymptomatic and mild cases of COVID-19. And, most importantly, it is currently unknown how long protection from vaccines will last. By the time we get crucial answers to these questions, it may be too late to reverse the effects of suddenly relaxing social distancing and masking guidelines.