And so the year-long mask-charade ends with a big question: Can you trust your fellow citizens?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Thursday said the vaccinated can now go largely mask free. President Joe Biden called it “a great day for America.”
But how is one to identify the vaccinated versus the anti-vaxxer’s simply taking advantage of newfound freedom from masks? They could still be out there spreading SARS-CoV-2, and though the vaccines have so far proven unbelievably successful in protecting people against the new pandemic disease, they are not perfect.
They are not the first vaccinated individuals who have developed COVID-19, the disease spawned by the virus in some but not all.
So what happened to COVID-guru Dr. Anthony Fauci’s warning of less than a month ago that it might be good to stay masked up for years?
The vaccinated “might get infected and get absolutely no symptoms, not know you’re infected, and then inadvertently go into a situation with vulnerable people.
“And if you don’t have a mask, you might inadvertently infect them. Now, there’s a small risk of that, but it’s there,” he told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on April 18.
The same day he went on CNN’s “State of the Union” to warn that “the other reason for wearing a mask is that there are variants that are circulating. And although they’re unusual, we are seeing breakthrough infections. But we’re also seeing variants that are a bit disturbing.”
Did those variants somehow vaporize in the last 28 days? Or did the administration of new President Biden just get tired of American’s arguing over masks that are in the opinions of some a bothersome waste of time and in the opinions of others the difference between life and death.
Mary Kathryn Grabowski, an assistant professor in epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University, told Poynter Institute’s fact checkers just two months ago that going without a mask is so dangerous it would even be unsafe to study masking.
“Randomized controlled trials are pretty much the gold standard, but they’re not always ethical,” Grabowski said. “We can’t just send people out without masks in the middle of a pandemic in the same way we can’t randomize people to not use a parachute when they jump out of a plane.”
Going without a mask during the pandemic is as dangerous as jumping out of an airplane without a parachute?
It’s hard to tell which is worse here. That someone trained in the sciences would make such an absurd statement or that a journalist would write it down without thinking.
Here are some things every journalist should know about SARS-CoV-2:
- Not everyone exposed to the SARS-CoV-2 virus comes down with the disease. That’s been well documented since passengers aboard the cruise ship Diamond Princess were held captive in a SARS-CoV-2-rich environment at the very start of the pandemic more than a year ago.
- Anywhere from a third to more than 50 percent of those infected by the SARS-CoV-2 don’t get sick, according to a study published by the Cambridge Univesity press; these are the people described as asymptomatic.
- The survival rate for the people who do get sick is now about 98 percent, according to the Worldometer tracker.
SARS-CoV-2 is nothing like jumping out of an airplane without a parachute, although there are people who have jumped out of airplanes without a parachute and survived.
“In a stunt called “Heaven Sent,” the 42-year-old daredevil leaped 25,000 feet to Earth – setting a world record. To accomplish this feat, Aikins had to direct his body in free fall using only the air currents around him to land safely on the high-tech 10,000-square-foot net (about a third the size of a football field) laid out to catch him.”
Overall, unfortunately, the odds of surviving a fall or jump out of an airplane without a parachute are near opposite the odds of surviving COVID-19; there’s a 98 percent or better chance you will die when you fall out of an airplane without a parachute.
Still, Grabowski must be in shock at the latest government advice. She is likely not alone.
For a year the country has been feuding over masks with the true believers in one camp; the freedom fighters (we’d rather die than wear a mask in another); and the skeptics somewhere in the middle.
The Northeast masked up early and heavily and death rates there still lead the nation: 292 per 100,000 dead in New Jersey; 273 per 100,000 in New York; 255 per 100,000 in Rhode Island and 253 per 100,000 in Massachusetts.
Those are the highest rates in the U.S.
Norway largely ignored masks and has a death rate of 14 per 100,000, about two and a half times lower than the 35 per 100,000 in Hawaii. Hawaii has the lowest rate in the U.S.
It did what Norway did and really cracked down on letting people onto the islands. Both figured out early on that masks weren’t the best solution.
The best solution was to keep potentially infected people away from others.
“Increased distance and fewer close contacts are two key measures to reduce transmission in the coronavirus pandemic,” the Norwegian government warned its citizens. “Increasing the distance between people and reducing the number of contacts reduces the risk of being infected by people who were unaware they were infected.
“The risk of infection is higher indoors than outdoors, especially in small and poorly ventilated rooms.”
The U.S. masked up, went on about its business, and plenty of people got sick and died while Americans argued over masking.
Not that Norwegians ignored masks. They recognized them as a possible aid in situations where there were no other alternatives, but they accepted that masks weren’t as good as seatbelts – or parachutes – for saving livings.