Keep Your Masks On! We Haven’t Achieved Herd Immunity Yet

masks cdc
AP Photo/John Minchillo, file

Many can agree that having to wear masks as part of our daily lives has been an absolute drag. From the trivial to the more serious of reasons too.

With half our faces covered, we were forced to live in a seemingly expressionless society. Conversations in business or personal settings became utterances of muffled words. Our bespectacled counterparts would complain about their eyeglasses becoming quickly fogged. And those of us with chronic respiratory ailments could barely breathe with fabric obstructing our mouths and noses.

Since the worldwide COVID-19 spread reached a pandemic level in 2020, donning a mask in public settings became mandatory in most states. This simple action had undoubtedly played a critical part in slowing the spread of the deadly virus, which to date has infected more than 160 million and claimed the lives of more than three million across the globe.

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But with the advent of the new vaccine, which became available through pioneering pharmaceutical and biotech companies Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca and most recently Sinopharm, a lot of us can finally breathe just a little bit easier.

For Americans, infection rates have dropped significantly since persons began getting vaccinated last December. Compared with the highest peak of 250,037 on January 8, 2021, the current seven-day average for new cases has decreased by 85.8 percent. And almost half of the U.S. population has taken their first dose, with nearly 40 percent now being fully vaccinated.

The future seems even more promising too as the adolescent age group just became eligible to receive their vaccines as well.

It’s for this reason that the Biden administration, under the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), recently made the announcement that fully vaccinated individuals can safely forgo their masks in most indoor public settings, prompting many US states to relax their social distancing and mask mandates.

But what about those among us who aren’t? As it stands, all the rules still apply to our unvaccinated peers as they should still be wearing masks when in public. Unfortunately, however, there’s simply no way to know who is fully vaccinated and who isn’t just by looking at them.

Considering this, many Americans are now assessing for themselves just how much faith they’ll put in the stranger standing next to them at the supermarket, in a public queue or even at work. Will unvaccinated persons actually follow through and keep their masks on?

Throughout the pandemic, our trust in each other has already been put to the test. And we all know someone who’s broken one of the rules at some point or another. Did every person who drove across a state line or re-entered the country follow the 14-day quarantine rule? Did everyone avoid getting unnecessary personal grooming services done, like a haircut or waxing their brows?

In the thick of things too, when COVID-19 was more rampant in 2020, we couldn’t even trust people to do the right thing and wear masks.

As it stands, face masks and physical distancing will need to continue into the foreseeable future. Until we get herd immunity, which is achieved when 50 to 80 percent of the population gets both jabs, the vaccine only functions as another layer of protection.

We must also consider that It takes time for the vaccine to kick in as one won’t reach the nearly 95 percent effectiveness rate until two weeks after a second-dose. There’s also no way to tell who among us falls into the five percent of those who won’t respond to the vaccine and will still be at risk for contracting COVID-19.

While the vaccines prevent illness, they don’t necessarily prevent transmission. And we still need to protect those with compromised immune systems and those who can’t be vaccinated. There’s also a precious group among us that still isn’t eligible for their vaccines – our children.

So, yes, the overall danger is waning but it’s not time to relax just yet. The CDC should exercise greater caution in giving advice to vaccinated people, and not ignore the fact that many still aren’t vaccinated. This is critical in continuing our efforts to stop the pandemic.

That said, please, exercise consideration and continue to wear your mask in public settings until the local transmission rate gets closer to zero. Just think – if this helps protect one person, be it a vulnerable family member, a friend, a work colleague or a total stranger, then it’s really not that great an inconvenience at all.

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