GREENWOOD -- Here we go again, with people getting upset with state and federal health officials for changing their advice when it comes to mask wearing.
Like most people, I am not crazy with the idea of putting on a mask again. I tried to be a good sport about it, obeying Greenwood’s mask mandate even after I had been vaccinated and the majority of people in this city were going unmasked.
My inclination to respect civil authority was the main motivation, rather than any fear that I might get sick or sicken others.
But things change, and that’s what I need to try to accept.
When I joyfully stopped wearing a mask in mid-June, the delta variant was a potential threat. Now it’s a real one. It’s caused an explosion in cases and hospitalizations, although Greenwood has been mostly spared so far.
The CDC have been saying for a while that the delta variant is much more contagious than previous strains. The other day it compared the variant’s transmissibility to chickenpox.
As far as its deadliness, the record is less clear. A recent British study found the delta variant to be more likely to be fatal, but Mississippi’s numbers so far don’t seem to bear that out.
Case numbers in the state have been as high in July as they were in February during the last wave of COVID-19 infections, but the death-to-infection ratio has only been about a fifth as high.
It’s possible that this is a premature comfort. Deaths are a lagging indicator, and as a result they may be on the low end when a surge is first starting.
It’s also possible that no matter the strain, the death rate would be lower since doctors and hospitals, with a year and a half of experience under their belts, have gotten better at treating COVID-19.
Nevertheless, as the fourth wave of infections has accelerated, so has the Centers for Disease Control’s re-embrace of masking.
A few weeks ago, it said that the fully vaccinated could stop wearing masks in most places. It backed off that in the past week, saying that even vaccinated people should resume covering their nose and mouth where infection rates are high. It may not be long before it drops that qualifier, too.
Don’t expect Gov. Tate Reeves to fall in line, though. He grudgingly ordered a sweeping mask mandate for a few months last year and was caught several times not following his own advice. He’s made it clear lately he’s going to take a hands-off approach not only about masking but also about vaccination. While other governors, including some fellow Republicans, have been aggressively promoting vaccination to try to raise their numbers, Reeves seems satisfied with the comparatively little Mississippi has accomplished in fighting this contagion.
He’s not even inclined to again order the schools to mask up, even though that’s where masking mandates make some of the most sense. Since vaccination rates are particularly low among students, the schools are vulnerable to serious outbreaks that could disrupt classes and potentially close the schools down for weeks at a time.
Children and families cannot take another semester of virtual learning. Students who had to learn remotely last year have suffered an educational deficit of unknown proportion. It would put them too far behind to continue that experience. Masks are a modest concession to make in safeguarding in-person learning. School officials, if they haven’t already, should require them at least until this latest surge abates.
As for the general population, I’m more ambivalent. I was willing to wear a mask to protect others before the vaccines were rolled out and also in the early months of vaccination, when supply of the shots did not meet demand.
But we’re months past that point. There is no shortage of supply of vaccine in this country. Most anyone who wants a shot has probably already received it. What’s left are largely the hard-core resisters who shun the vaccine as a political gesture or because they don’t trust it. Unfortunately, more than half of the adults in Mississippi fit in that category.
They’ve decided to roll the dice and see what happens. The uncharitable side of me says, If they don’t want to protect themselves, why should I inconvenience myself to try to protect them? If they had gotten vaccinated, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. The virus would have stayed down. Instead, the unvaccinated breathed new life into it. Let them deal with the consequences of that. I don’t want local government authorities telling me I’ve got to wear a mask to accommodate the skittish and the irresponsible. Let me choose when and where I think it’s prudent to wear one.
That’s how I felt until Friday. That’s when it was reported that a major reason for the CDC’s latest revision to its guidelines was an outbreak in Massachusetts, in which almost 350 vaccinated people tested positive for COVID-19 after July 4 festivities on Cape Cod.
The good news was that only four had to be hospitalized, and none died, a testament to the power of the vaccines to keep people from getting seriously ill if they are among the statistically few who get reinfected.
The bad news was that, while the research is still inconclusive, it’s possible that the vaccinated were just as contagious as the unvaccinated.
If that proves true, it will make it harder to feel right about going unmasked.
- Contact Tim Kalich at 581-7243 or firstname.lastname@example.org.