A pandemic is a moving target — that’s been true since the beginning, as scientists learn more about how COVID-19 spreads, infects and kills.
No masks, masks, back to no masks and now, it appears, another recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that even vaccinated individuals should wear masks indoors if they live in areas of high and substantial transmission. As of Tuesday afternoon, that is 63 percent of the nation’s counties.
Rather than backpedaling, this is a sensible and overdue reaction to both vaccine hesitancy and the mutating coronavirus variants. In fact, the CDC should make its advice simpler: Wear masks indoors and when it’s crowded outdoors.
The United States was close to putting the pandemic behind us. But that success is beginning to slow. To prevent an overload of our health care system and workers, Americans must again change their behaviors.
The new recommendations also have implication for children in school, with the CDC asking that everyone in K-12 schools wear a mask. That will be impossible in some states where laws ban such mandates. Fortunately, New Mexico is smarter than that.
In New Mexico, the state Public Education Department has recommended masks for all students without vaccinations. That includes all elementary-age schoolchildren — they can’t be vaccinated yet — but vaccinated students can attend school and not wear masks under the initial advice.
This approach is both too risky and too complicated. The PED said it is reconsidering guidelines since the CDC has updated its recommendations.
Keep it simple. Require masks for all students learning in person. Adults in schools also should wear masks. One message — wear masks for the good of everyone, vaccinated or vulnerable.
And K-12 schools are not the only educational institutions that need to do more to stop the coronavirus spread. Public universities should require proof of vaccinations for staff and for students who want to attend college in person. So far, the University of New Mexico has set an “aspirational” goal of 100 percent vaccinated but is not requiring COVID-19 vaccines. New Mexico State University also is not requiring COVID-19 vaccinations. That’s a recipe for disaster. It also defies logic.
Here’s why: The delta variant is too contagious. New data is showing people infected with the delta strain can carry up to 1,000 times more of the virus in their nasal passages than those who had the original strain. It spreads two to three times faster than the original virus and now makes up 80 percent of cases in the U.S.
Public health strategies can buy time to finish the vaccination of adults and make sure teens and children are inoculated against COVID-19. So many of the unvaccinated are not stubborn adults; they are children. We must protect them.
A vaccine mandate likely won’t be accepted given the insistence of too many citizens that their rights trump everyone else’s. However, requiring proof of vaccination to attend concerts, travel on mass transit and work in federal or state jobs could persuade reluctant individuals. Colleges could require students to be vaccinated. So could hospitals and health care centers. All of this protects everyone else and slows the spread.
Because while we debate masks and mandates, the virus keeps mutating. And that’s the issue for CDC boss Dr. Rochelle Walensky: “We’re just a few mutations potentially away where it could potentially evade our vaccines.”
That’s a terrifying scenario. And one to which we should all pay heed.
We have vaccinations. They work. We have public health strategies. They work.
Use them — the life you save could be your own.