The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's new guidelines on mask wearing brought questions about enforcement, repercussions and honesty of those who aren’t fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and may see this as an opportunity to resume normal activities regardless of vaccination status.
The guidelines no longer require fully vaccinated people to mask when outdoors and in most indoor situations. Many businesses have started adopting the policy and plan to use the honor system to enforce it, introducing new risks from people abusing the guidelines.
"It might seem victimless to go to a restaurant and not wear a mask if you've yet to be vaccinated, but there's a few things wrong with this equation," explained Dr. Nick Gilpin, Beaumont’s director of Infection Prevention and Epidemiology. "Being dishonest about being vaccinated and not wearing a mask for whatever short-term gains has potential long-term consequences which could negatively affect the course of this pandemic."
Being dishonest about being vaccinated and not wearing a mask for whatever short-term gains has potential long-term consequences which could negatively affect the course of this pandemic.Dr. Gilpin
Dr. Gilpin outlined three scenarios where being unvaccinated and going maskless could negatively affect those around you and potentially cause a surge of new cases, setting our progress back months.
MORE CHILDREN UNDER THE AGE OF 12 ARE GETTING INFECTED
During the most recent surge in Michigan, children accounted for a much larger percentage of new COVID-19 cases, due primarily to high vaccination rates among older Americans as well as loosened restrictions on school activities.
“Without an approved vaccine for children under 12, the chances they could be exposed and infected in an indoor setting or crowded outdoor event or activity are higher,” explained Dr. Gilpin. “These young, unvaccinated kids are the perfect host for the virus to spread and as we’ve seen, bad cases of COVID-19 among kids are more common than you think.”
POTENTIAL FOR OUTBREAKS AND BREAKTHROUGH CASES
While COVID-19 cases across the country are declining, reconvening in groups with vaccinated and unvaccinated people can set that all back.
When done unsafely, birthday parties, summer get-togethers, and dining out at restaurants all have the potential to spawn new and abrupt outbreaks.
Breakthrough cases, or people contracting the virus post vaccination, are rare (currently 0.01% in the U.S.), but they are still possible because none of the existing vaccines are 100% effective at reducing all infection.
“The vaccines are highly effective at preventing serious disease and death, but if you’re in a situation where people are unmasked and the assumption is everyone is vaccinated you’ll have a tendency to let your guard down,” said Dr. Gilpin. “That’s where these rare infections could become more common.”
HIGH CHANCE OF MORE VARIANTS OR VARIANTS BECOMING VACCINE RESISTANT
Viruses constantly change through mutation, and new variants of a virus are expected to occur over time. This is especially true for COVID-19 as multiple variants have already been documented in the U.S. and globally during this pandemic.
“The danger in not reaching herd immunity is that the virus has more opportunities to mutate. Even though the current vaccines have been shown to be effective against the newer strains, we shouldn’t fool ourselves to believe that a new variant couldn’t overpower what we’ve developed,” said Dr. Gilpin.
COVID-19 has spread too far and for too long for us to give it more of an advantage of adapting and sticking around. Dr. Gilpin added, “Vaccines are still our best way out of this pandemic.”