The cynical view is that a great part of the “masks forever” impulse derives from the narcissistic tendency to want to feel morally superior to the other tribe. Wearing the mask shows you care; wearing it even after you’ve been told you don’t need to shows that you care that much more. (Credit to Maddow, then, for nudging her audience that it’s okay to go maskless.) Being a cynic myself, I share that view. Particularly since some lefties will come right out and admit it:
I feel the need to continue wearing my mask outside even though I’m fully vaccinated because the inconvenience of having to wear a mask is more than worth it to have people not think I’m a conservative 😬
But there’s something too to this Vice piece that pointed to masks being more than a mere talisman of virtue-signaling. They’re a wearable security blanket for people who feel sincerely traumatized by the pandemic:
Around a month ago, Lauren Albanese went to the mall with her uncle and dad. It was the first time since the pandemic began that the 27-year-old from Staten Island had been around people outside her household.
As they entered, Albanese froze. All the people around her seemed to move in slow motion. Her dad spoke to her, but she couldn’t hear his words. “My body completely shut down, triggered by simply being around people,” she said. “I still feel like I don’t have control over myself and how my body reacts after everything that’s happened.”
Albanese tested positive for COVID-19 three days after her grandmother died, on April 8, 2020. “Not a day goes by when I don’t think about the events that took place over a year ago,” Albanese said.
There’s another reason to continue wearing masks in certain situations even if you’re vaccinated despite the CDC’s assurances that you don’t need to. Namely, the CDC often doesn’t seem to know what it’s doing. Dating all the way back to the first days of the pandemic, when the agency botched its first attempt at a diagnostic test for COVID, they’ve seemed perpetually a step behind the virus or lured into mistaken assumptions about it with disastrous consequences. There may have been no more consequential error during the past 14 months than the CDC concluding early on that the virus is transmitted via surfaces and therefore masks weren’t important. It took them more than a year to declare that the six-foot rule, which never had real science behind it, needn’t apply to students in schools. The new “masks off” guidance for vaccinated people came just 16 days after the initial guidance recommending that the vaccinated mask up in most situations, with no new scientific findings in the interim to explain the shift.
If you’re surprised by the agency’s free-your-face announcement, you’re not alone. State officials had no idea it was coming. Businesses were caught off guard. Even White House officials were reportedly surprised by both the timing and the substance of the new advice, according to CNN. The CDC is notionally in the business of offering public-health guidance. But when a government agency’s recommendations consistently surprise or confuse members of its own government, one wonders if it’s serving as a particularly effective guide.
Last night, just a few hours after the CDC announcement, ABC published an analysis claiming that infections in bars, restaurants, and gyms — the hottest of hot spots, per the CDC — may have been far less common than anyone thought. Meanwhile, one of the few venues in which the CDC is still recommending that vaccinated people mask up is airplanes even though the air in the cabin is replaced every few minutes and transmissions on planes are rare.
Which brings me to the point: If the CDC wasn’t worth trusting when it was calling for tighter restrictions, why would it be worth trusting now that it’s calling for easing restrictions? If the agency’s forever behind the curve then the “masks off” guidance isn’t necessarily any more reliable than the previous guidance was. For instance, while there’s no doubt that the vaccines are working to ease the pandemic here in the U.S., there remains real doubt (in my mind, at least) whether the CDC’s data on “breakthrough infections” in vaccinated people is reliable or not. There are now no fewer than eight cases of COVID on the New York Yankees, all among vaxxed players, coaches, and staff, and this news dropped last night:
All but one of the Yankees were also asymptomatic and the one coach who wasn’t is apparently feeling fine now. The vaccines are doing what they were supposed to do, in other words. But the fact that we’re seeing numerous high-profile breakthrough infections like these makes me suspect that mild or asymptomatic infections among the vaccinated are more common than the .008 percent figure the CDC threw at us a few weeks ago. In fact, the agency announced a few days ago that they’re not going to count breakthrough infections anymore unless they result in severe cases, a suspicious decision which some experts are criticizing as an example of the agency willfully blinding itself to possibly important data about how the vaccines are coping with variants.
If the CDC is only counting severe breakthrough infections now, why didn’t they do that from the beginning? The fact that they’ve decided to stop counting mild infections smells like a case of them suspecting that there may be more of those among the vaxxed than they previously believed and not wanting to have to share that info with the public for fear that it’ll discourage some holdouts from getting their shots.
But we don’t know. Again, they’ve suddenly shifted on something important for opaque reasons and we’re left to guess why.
The upshot is that if you’re vaccinated you should wear a mask or not depending on your own comfort level. You’re all but guaranteed not to have a serious case of COVID even if you go barefaced, but if it makes you feel better to add a tiny bit of extra protection when you’re among a group indoors — or if you’re worried about inadvertently infecting some unvaccinated person nearby — then sure, put it on. Only a chump would unthinkingly defer to the CDC at this point after all the missteps of the past 15 months.
Here’s Walensky doing her best to spin yesterday’s decision as the product of something other than pure public pressure to ease up on the vaccinated already.