In a sharp turnabout, federal health officials on Thursday advised that Americans who are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus may stop wearing masks or maintaining social distance in most indoor and outdoor settings, regardless of size.
The advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention comes as welcome news to Americans who have tired of restrictions and marks a watershed moment in the pandemic. Masks ignited controversy in communities across the United States, symbolizing a bitter partisan divide over approaches to the pandemic and a badge of political affiliation.
Permission to stop using them now offers an incentive to the many millions who are still holding out on vaccination. As of Wednesday, about 154 million people have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, but only about one-third of the nation, some 117.6 million people, have been fully vaccinated. Individuals are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after the one-dose Johnson & Johnson shot or the second dose of either Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine series.
Consistent with my belief that public health authorities should tell the truth as they best understand it rather than engaging in eleven-dimensional psychological chess, I obviously think this is the right thing. Yes, you can tell as just-so story about how this will justify going maskless to people who haven’t gotten vaccinated even if this flies in the face of their literal message. But you can also tell a just-so story — supported by some data, even — that promising that people can go maskless after vaccination is a compelling incentive to many vaccine-reluctant Republicans. Which is these is true, or more true? I have no idea! But this is the point — neither does anyone else. To place any confidence in assumptions about how diverse groups of people will react to policy changes in an unprecedented situation is silly. Just tell the truth — it’s the easiest thing to remember. And the truth is that if you’re fully vaccinated and drive to go to a restaurant the drive itself poses substantially more risk to yourself and others than dining maskless would.
Biden’s speech is very good, and note the part where he says that if people want to keep wearing masks it’s fine and you should treat them with kindness rather than worrying about it: