In May 2021, President Biden proclaimed to Americans, “If you’ve been fully vaccinated, you no longer need to wear a mask.” Less than three months later, amid the rise of the delta variant and more breakthrough infections, the administration has issued new guidance encouraging the fully vaccinated to mask up. Now vaccinated people will have to get used to wearing masks indoors in places like grocery stores and movie theaters.
Some health experts believe that the new guidance has led to mass confusion and is complicating President Biden’s efforts to show Americans that we are making progress against the pandemic. In Illinois, Governor J.B. Pritzker mandated that every school require students to wear masks when they return to class, but at the time of the announcement, many school boards in Illinois had already decided to make masks optional, which goes against the governor’s mask mandate. Many parents are having a hard time figuring out which rule to follow. Protesters across America have been pictured defying social distancing guidelines and without wearing masks or face coverings. Just last week, in Jefferson County Colorado, hundreds of parents protested Jeffco Public School’s mask mandate days before kids return to class.
Health experts and local leaders in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Washington State told POLITICO they expect the latest warnings and recommendations will be brushed off by a crisis-weary public that’s been whipsawed for a year and a half by often conflicting federal orders and scientific evidence. Many Republican leaders agree and the new guidance has been met with hostility. In fact, GOP lawmakers are suing Nancy Pelosi over a mandate earlier this year that members wear masks while on the House floor. The controversial mask mandate is now impacting schools as children return to in-person learning this fall. Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis threatened to dock the pay of local superintendents and board members who refuse to make face coverings optional.
Some religious leaders are weighing the benefits and potential backlash of mandating masks once again. On Maryland’s Eastern Shore, pastor Keith Myer said his church hasn’t mandated mask-wearing since May when Gov. Larry Hogan lifted the state mask mandate for businesses. “If I make a shift, I lose people,” said Myer, whose church members have not reported any COVID-19 cases. “It’s hard to know what’s the right move here.” Myer believes that masking is controversial because there are people who won’t come if it’s mandated and then there are people who won’t come if they don’t think people are wearing masks consistently.
The realization that the delta variant is altering the course of the pandemic has angered many Americans. Terri Corcoran reported to Rolling Stones that she can’t contain her frustration. “I am so sick of this — so discouraged that it won’t get better because of the people who won’t get vaccinated. I am 70. I have spent almost two years virtually alone now. I was starting to get out more after being vaccinated, and now I’m feeling like a prisoner again.” Kelly Shoul, a wedding photographer based in Colorado said the pandemic has left her mental health in jeopardy. “This is the second time in two years that we’ve faced a future of uncertainty because of this virus. The difference is that this time, we have the knowledge and tools to save ourselves. But thanks to people who steadfastly refuse to use them — some of whom actively spread conspiracy theories and misinformation about Covid vaccines and the effectiveness of masking — we’re still nowhere near the finish line.”
In addition to conflicting and often confusing views, the new mask guidance has also led to senseless violence. In late July, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) reported that in Flint, Michigan, a security guard was shot and killed in an altercation that allegedly began over a customer’s refusal to cover their face per the state governor’s order. Tension over the new mask mandate in Michigan also led to a fatal police shooting. Instances of customers destroying property and even assaulting employees over the new mask guidance were reported nationwide. According to Forbes, a 17-year-old employee of Sesame Place, a children’s theme park just outside of Philadelphia, was reportedly punched in the face by a man and a woman after he reminded them to wear masks while in the park. A woman allegedly hit a gate agent in a Phoenix airport terminal after American Airlines staff barred her from her flight connection for her refusal to cover her face on the first leg of her journey per airline policy. In addition to assaults on workers, crime is on the rise.
AM analysts believe that wearing a face mask is just one part of a comprehensive strategy to reduce COVID-19 infections. In the wake of the new delta variant, public health experts and local leaders must continue to encourage Americans to get vaccinated. They must relentlessly communicate the science, which suggests that currently authorized vaccines in the United States are highly effective at protecting vaccinated people against symptomatic and severe COVID-19 infections. Although it is unclear if resistance to the new mask guidance will ease over time or if a universal mask mandate will need to be enforced, AM analysts will continue to track the latest trends and developments.
AM LLC is currently working nationwide with multiple states and public health agencies on testing, contact tracing, and vaccination programs. Counties, states, or K-12 partners that are interested in partnering with AM for COVID-19 mitigation support should contact Dr. Christopher K Orlea at firstname.lastname@example.org.