A person sits in Bryant Park after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced new guidelines for wearing outer masks and vaccinations during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Manhattan, New York City, New York, United States, April 27, 2021.
Andrew Kelly | Reuters
Disney was quick to announce plans to further increase capacity limits at its U.S. theme parks hours after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday announced relaxed mask guidelines for the United States.
“[It’s] big news for us, especially if someone was in Florida in midsummer with a mask, ”CEO Bob Chapek joked with analysts on an earnings call about two hours after the release of the report. new recommendations.
“Based on the advice that just came out today from the CDC, and the previous advice we have received from the Governor of Florida, we have already started to expand our capacity,” he said.
The CDC now says that fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear a face mask or stay six feet from others in most settings, whether outdoors or indoors, depending on the situation. updated guidelines. This is the first time the federal government has encouraged people to stop wearing masks since the agency first requested covering their faces over a year ago. It marks a major turning point in the Covid-19 pandemic in the United States and brings the country closer to normality. Public health experts also said the change will likely encourage more Americans, especially those who are still hesitant to receive the vaccines, to get vaccinated.
The agency, however, has come under heavy criticism for its quick turnaround. Just six weeks ago, Director Rochelle Walensky warned people of ‘impending disaster’ as daily cases of Covid-19 in the United States started to rise again. And many healthcare and business leaders say the new recommendations were too ambiguous. It requires essential workers to control vaccination records and will be difficult to enforce.
“Under current plans, it will be impossible to apply in most settings,” Dr. Chin-Hong, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California at San Francisco, told TBEN. “Businesses, schools and event planners may still have the jurisdiction to require proof of vaccination before including them in specific communities or events, but for other daily events there will be no application of vaccine passports or QR codes as is done in other countries. “
There are cases where fully vaccinated people still have to wear masks: on airplanes, buses or trains, as well as in places like hospitals, nursing homes, prisons or institutions that need them, said the agency. CDC advice is also not mandatory. States, municipalities and businesses can decide whether or not they want to follow it, further confusing many business owners and employees.
Some health and legal experts told TBEN it would further complicate public health efforts to end the pandemic, adding that it is “nearly impossible” to control the use of face masks because there is no has no way of knowing who is vaccinated and who is not. More than half of the population has still not been vaccinated, they said, risking more outbreaks in unmasked and unvaccinated people.
“While we all share the desire to return to normal without a mask, the CDC’s current guidance is puzzling and ignores the impact it will have on essential workers who are frequently exposed to people who are not. not vaccinated and who refuse to wear masks, ”Marc Perrone, president of the Unified Union of Food and Commercial Workers, said in a statement. “Essential workers are still being forced to mask the police for buyers who are not vaccinated and refuse to follow local COVID safety measures. Are they now supposed to become the vaccination police? ”
Lisa LaBruno, senior executive vice president of retail operations and innovation for the Retail Industry Leaders Association, told TBEN that the new guidelines “create ambiguity for retailers because they don’t fully align with national and local orders “.
“These confrontational positions place retailers and their employees in extremely difficult situations. We urge state and local governments to coordinate with the CDC as additional guidance is issued on the path to normalcy,” she said. stated in a press release.
Beauty store chain Ulta Beauty said it does not plan to change its mask and social distancing requirements at its stores, although it is actively assessing “the implications of this updated advice for our customers. and associates ”. He said the health and safety of his employees and customers was his top priority.
“I hate to say ‘It’s complicated’, but it’s complicated,” said David French, lobbyist for the National Retail Federation. On the one hand, the CDC’s guidelines might provide more clarity, but it also complicates things since companies won I don’t know who gets vaccinated or not – and neither do customers.
Even with the announcement of this milestone, shoppers shouldn’t expect to see immediate changes to their local grocery store or mall, said Joel Bines, global co-leader of the retail practice at the firm. of AlixPartners Consulting. He said the advice would make little difference for retailers who don’t know people’s immunization status – and most importantly, want to make sure their employees and customers don’t get sick.
“This is an extremely difficult management problem for any business that interacts with consumers on a physical level,” he said. “There is no user manual for this.”
Law professor Lawrence Gostin, director of the World Health Organization’s Collaborating Center on National and Global Health Law, said the new guidelines could have “serious unintended consequences.”
“The public won’t feel comfortable shopping, eating or going to church or the gym if they don’t know whether the unmasked person standing next to them is vaccinated or not,” he said. Gostin said.
46% of the U.S. population vaccinated
As of Thursday, more than 154 million Americans received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine, or 46.6% of the U.S. population, according to the CDC. About 118 million Americans are fully immunized, according to the agency. The US government is working to persuade more Americans to get vaccinated after the pace of injections has slowed in recent weeks.
Unlike some other countries, the United States does not have a system for people to prove that they have been vaccinated. Even if there was one, those vaccinated are unlikely to always have their cards with them, and not everyone will have digital proof, said Dorit Reiss, professor of law at UC Hastings College. of Law. Areas with high vaccination rates can likely lift mask restrictions entirely, she added.
“This is an exciting and powerful moment,” CDC director Dr Rochelle Walensky told reporters at a White House briefing on Covid-19 on Thursday after announcing the new directions. “This could only have happened because of the work of so many people who ensured that we had the timely delivery of three safe and effective vaccines.”
Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC
Source: CDC | Youtube
From an epidemiological standpoint, the CDC guidelines “mean we are in a place where we are in the best place in the pandemic than we have ever been as a country with continuing decreases in infections, hospitalizations and deaths. “said Chin-Hong, the disease doctor.
“The symbolic meaning is even more palpable,” he added. “The masks have been the symbol of fear and political divisions [and] by rejecting them, at least for those vaccinated, it will hopefully mean it brings us back to the life we longed for before the pandemic. “
The Nevada Gaming Control Board, which sets the rules for casinos, immediately updated its rules, allowing Wynn Las Vegas to relax its own mask guidelines. The company said on Friday that fully vaccinated customers and employees would not have to wear masks at its hotels and casinos.
Give in to the pressure
Gostin and others criticized the CDC’s abrupt change in policy, saying it was giving in to pressure from the public and governors to return to normal. “As a result, the CDC is radically shifting its focus from over-caution to abandoning all-caution,” he said, adding that this could undermine public confidence in the agency. . “It will make the public less dependent on CDC advice if they feel the agency is being rushed.”
On Friday, Walensky defended the timing of the new direction. Over the past two weeks, daily Covid cases have declined by more than a third, she said, and vaccinations are now widely available in most countries in the United States. so as not to take the risk of coming out unmasked.
If multiple people are in a room unmasked, those vaccinated will be protected, she said.
Emerging science shows that vaccinated people are protected against Covid-19 and have a “very low risk of passing it on” to other people, even with some of the variants that appear to make vaccines less effective, she said. said on TBEN “This Morning.” “What we’re really doing is empowering people to make decisions about their own health,” she said.
TBEN’s Nadine El-Bawab, Sarah Whitten, and Michael Wayland contributed to this article.