The Centers for Disease Control released updates earlier this week advising that people who are fully vaccinated are unlikely to transmit COVID-19 and can gather indoors without mask-wearing in some scenarios.
This encouraging news came over a week after the Food Drug Administration approved the emergency use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine — the third shot authorized nationwide and the only one to require a single dose.
Several states subsequently announced plans to lift mask mandates, citing the increased pace of vaccine rollout as a sign to “not only protect lives but to also protect livelihoods,” Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves told CNN.
Although it would be nice to return to the mask-less, pre-pandemic world, that is simply not the reality we live in. The United States passed a grim milestone at the end of February and now has over 525,000 COVID-19 related deaths, an astounding total that was once unthinkable and is still growing.
And the deaths will not stop anytime in the foreseeable future. Cases have plateaued nationwide at a number that is dangerously high, and hospitals are operating beyond capacity almost a year after they admitted their first cases of coronavirus.
Cases of more transmissible COVID-19 variants also continue to increase nationwide and although early evidence suggests vaccines are effective against these mutations, the CDC emphasizes that it is still under investigation.
It is imperative that all Americans keep their masks on, even if they are vaccinated. Wearing masks, especially when paired with social distancing, has been proven to be an effective measure of mitigating the spread of coronavirus.
Lifting mask mandates based on the positive news is negligent and, with spring break around the corner for students, could result in a surge of cases and deaths that could easily be prevented if the public adheres to proven health and safety guidelines.
Such measures that allow indoor gatherings and no mask-wearing, as a recent CDC study found, were responsible for sharp increases in COVID-19 cases in the past.
The CDC’s new updates should not sway people away from having optimism in the vaccine rollout, which is gradually gaining speed and will continue to trend in the right direction with a third vaccine. But America cannot allow optimism to blind prudence and vigilance.
There will be a day when we are able to roam freely without masks, but that day is not today, not tomorrow and it will not be until a large portion of the nationwide population is vaccinated.