I ran a small experiment on FB the other day to prove an idea. I asked, “Why did you trust the CDC recommendation to wear a mask but don’t trust them now saying it’s ok not to wear one?”1 And it worked in favor of the discussion that the CDC under trump was constantly being meddled with but is now being run based on the science with no interference from the Biden HHS appointee.
The answers were varied but pretty much what I expected. A common thread was many would continue “out of an abundance of caution.” And to be clear, I’m not trying to shame anyone or even be judgmental. My thoughts couldn’t be further from that. You should do what makes you feel safe. It did validate my theory though. Human beings have a hard time updating their moral/ethical standards. They do not adapt well to standards that changes too quickly. It cuts to the core of how we process our reality. When the idea of right and wrong changes too quickly many people develop of sense of disbelief. This disbelief can lead to fear, anger, shock, judgment, and/or even a larger disconnect from the world around them. When you add in a lack of knowledge (willful or otherwise), religion, or other biases it only serves to increase the disconnect.
Just as one example, look how many gay men fought the idea of PrEP.2 PrEP has been around for years now and has consistently and repeatedly proven to be a better preventative measure to the spread of HIV than condoms. However, there are still contingents within the community who know better. The latter is often based more on biases and personal judgment than science, but that isn’t the point today. The triggers are deeper than than. After 3 decades of having the idea that “safe sex is sex with a condom” pounded into our heads, many men (and women) simply can’t process the idea of it suddenly not being applicable anymore. I see it more in older gay men, many of which witnessed the agony and suffering caused by AIDS and it’s devastation on our community. To wake up one day and be told, “condoms are fine but bareback is now perfectly fine IF you use this drug” simply does not compute. In our brains, we “know” what works. We understand the simple idea of placing a barrier between ourselves and others as a form of protection. The idea of removing that physical barrier we can see in favor of a drug treatment barrier3 just “seems wrong” to many.
Another common answer was people “couldn’t trust others to be honest about their vaccination status.” That is an admirable approach; however, why is it your responsibility to protect those who are willfully ignorant or refuse to get vaccinated, especially since we don’t do this for other vaccinations? Why is this one suddenly different? Is it really caution or the disbelief in a suddenly changing moral standard? Hmmm? And looking at the risk, it is no longer an equal equation. We collectively make a social contract to protect each other by each person respectively doing their part. When it was equal you saw me constantly encouraging folks to wear their masks and social distance. I’m all about harm reduction. As a vaccinated person I’m not really keeping anyone else safer now by wearing my mask.4 As an unvaccinated person, you should continue to wear your mask and avoid overly crowded places. However, if you refuse to get vaccinated, it is no longer an equal equation and you are shifting the burden onto others. The social contract is broken.
If you are still worried for yourself due to other health issues that is certainly ok. Again, at no point is this discussion meant to dissuade anyone from doing what they feel is right for themselves.
Vaccinations are readily available almost everywhere in the US now and availability is increasing every day. Vaccinations are free and you can now get a free Uber/Lyft ride to your local vaccination sites. You have no excuse not to get vaccinated. We have so many doses of the vaccines now we are sending them to other countries still in dire need.
The last popular argument was a lack of trust in the CDC over pressure to reopen. I do think the CDC feels some pressure to ‘open up’ society, but not at the expense of a rising death toll. They know some will still become infected and potentially even die. However, our safe guards are about harm reduction. From a medical viewpoint, we will have to COVID in our lives for years to come. The degree of danger from it is lower every day now. We have reached an important threshold, even at just 50% immunity. Our emergency response systems, including hospitals, are unlikely to be overwhelmed by new patients. It is likely we will eventually reach over 60% of the country being vaccinated, 70% if we are lucky. And while still below the “herd immunity” threshold, that just means, as alluded above, we will end up with yearly booster shots, much like the flu virus. It could be with us indefinitely due to variants or just a few years until we reach a real herd immunity. Eventually, those not vaccinated are likely to contract it. They could also suffer reinfection from variants, but again much like the flu, they are less likely to be hospitalized or die after surviving a first infection.
There are always other health variables for an individual to consider, so you should do what makes you feel safe. For myself, I trust the science and am comfortable with my decision to go mask-less where it is allowed. I think many of us aren’t really worried as much as we are conflicted on an evolving standard.