By Richard Davis
Editor’s note: Richard Davis, a retired nurse who lives in Guilford, was a columnist for the Brattleboro Reformer for 25 years and now posts a weekly blog on iBrattleboro.
Many of us have been wearing masks for over a year and have looked forward to the day when our faces could be on full public display. The coronavirus is showing signs of receding, at least in this country, and vaccination numbers are increasing.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that fully vaccinated people can do away with masks in most public places and that they do not need to social-distance. Exceptions include public transportation such as buses, airplanes and hospitals. The new CDC guidelines are confusing a lot of people, as well as states and municipalities.
That is why many states have not lifted mask mandates and why large numbers of people seem to continue to wear masks in public. So what is the safest action for people to take when it comes to mask-wearing? I think it all comes down to how much risk you are comfortable taking and how likely you think contracting Covid will be in any particular situation.
The experts tell us that fully vaccinated people have a very low risk of getting Covid and are unlikely to transmit the virus to others. But low risk does not mean no risk. We have to consider the fact that Covid is a potentially deadly disease and that if a person does not die from it, they still have a chance of suffering lingering symptoms for a long time.
The best we can do as a society is for as many people as possible to get vaccinated. Those who are skeptical of the vaccine will probably never change their minds and they are the people who will keep the virus alive. If there is a likelihood of contracting Covid, it is greatest from the unvaccinated.
I have been skeptical of the safety and efficacy of the vaccine but have come to realize that, if you look at the numbers of people vaccinated and the number of ill effects, a case could be made that the Covid vaccine is the safest and most effective vaccine ever developed. We will not know if there are long-term side effects from the vaccine, and that is the risk we weigh against contracting and spreading the disease.
The Covid virus will never be completely eliminated anytime soon and we have to accept that fact. That means that we all have to develop our own strategies for protecting ourselves. Anyone who is immune-compromised or in ill health needs a higher level of protection from transmission and those people should wear masks indefinitely.
When public officials make recommendations, they base them on levels of risk to the entire population. If the risk of transmission is low among school-age, children does that mean they no longer have to wear masks? It should mean that their parents should weigh the risks and decide what is best.
The CDC guidance assumes that people will be honest about their vaccine status. That is not going to happen. There will be no credible way for a person to know whether the person next to them in the supermarket has been vaccinated, and that is something that scares me.
I will continue to wear a mask in most public places and rely on the veracity of vaccination status only of people I know for the foreseeable future. That is the world we are now living in.