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Businesses & Officials Are Concerned Anti-Maskers Won’t Honor CDC’s New Guidance

Recent polling shows that most Americans in certain situations still feel more comfortable wearing a mask than not.

A digital highway sign promotes COVID-19 vaccination on May 14, 2021, in Vancouver, Washington.

While many have celebrated the newly announced guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that say those who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 no longer have to wear masks in most situations, others are highly cautious of the idea, noting that the guidance relies upon people being honest over whether they’ve gotten their shots or not.

The new guidance states that fully vaccinated individuals, with limited exceptions, “can resume activities that you did prior to the pandemic” without a mask or social distancing. But the CDC also stipulates that people still need to respect the rules in their own jurisdictions.

“Fully vaccinated people can resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance,” the agency said.

Most of the U.S. is not in that camp, however, as just 48 percent of Americans have received one dose of a coronavirus vaccine and only 37 percent are fully vaccinated at this time. But that hasn’t stopped a number of states from announcing their mask and distancing mandates will soon be ending.

“Unvaccinated people should continue to wear a mask and social distance, but if you are vaccinated you are safe — no masks, no social distancing,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in announcing that state’s end to its rules on facial coverings. (Masks will still be required in a number of places in the state, including in public transportation settings, in health care facilities and nursing homes, in schools, and more.)

There are worries, however, that things might be moving too quickly. As social media posts and news reports have detailed throughout the year, a number of Americans, disapproving of social distancing and mask mandates, have tried to thwart enforcement of those rules. Now that many jurisdictions are planning to lift those mandates, there are worries that some won’t be totally honest about their vaccine status.

“I say this respectfully to the CDC, but we really need to get back to a point where it’s encouraging (people) to get vaccinated and more of that focus rather than celebrating our newfound freedoms,” Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor Quinton Lucas said on CNN, adding that, “the honor system just ain’t working here.”

“I don’t think it’s going to work in a lot of parts in this country,” Lucas continued.

The problem, the mayor opined, is that stores and other public locations can’t be certain that people who aren’t wearing masks are vaccinated, and thus less likely to spread the virus.

“How does the store clerk check it? How does our health department actually enforce any rule at all?” Lucas asked. “So, while I respect many of the jurisdictions that are trying to, I think, really have adherence to the CDC (guidance), it’s a challenge for us.”

It’s a concern that Truthout’s William Rivers Pitt also shared in a recent column.

“The consternation over these new rules is palpable. Vaccinated folks can unmask, which is super, great, but who is vaccinated and who isn’t? We’re doing the honor system now?” Pitt asked.

Officials in Baltimore, Maryland, have expressed similar worries, and have opted not to lift their mask mandate as a result. While the state of Maryland is relaxing its statewide mask rules, the city is keeping its mask and social-distancing rules in place until a threshold of at least 65 percent of adults with one or more shots is reached. Currently, only about 52 percent of the city’s adult population has received at least one vaccination.

“The CDC’s announcement regarding vaccines comes at a time where robust methods to confirm whether individuals are vaccinated do not yet exist,” city Health Commissioner Letitia Dzirasa explained.

Local businesses across the country, who can impose their own mask rules even if the states or municipalities they reside in don’t have any, are also struggling with what their plans will be.

“I think we’re still going to keep our dining room closed,” restaurant manager William Lo told The Southern Illinoisan, noting that it’s “not hospitable” to have a conversation with every customer about whether they’re vaccinated or not.

Recent polling on the question of wearing masks seems to suggest most Americans plan to keep wearing them in a number of social situations. A Morning Consult poll conducted May 14-17 showed that respondents were split on whether they’d be comfortable dining indoors with or without a mask, with 38 percent saying they would be fine doing so and 37 percent saying they’d prefer doing so while still wearing a facial covering (and 24 percent saying they didn’t feel comfortable at all doing so). Numbers were similar on how people felt about taking a vacation at this time.

But 58 percent of Americans, according to that poll, said they’d feel more comfortable going to the grocery store while wearing a mask, versus 32 percent who said they’d be fine going maskless. Forty-six percent also said that kids should still wear masks in school, and 50 percent said they’d be more comfortable taking a trip to the mall if they had their masks on, compared to just 29 percent who said they’d feel fine going without their mask.

When asked what local officials should do — whether federal guidance should direct their own rules on masks and social distancing — only 25 percent said suggestions from federal officials should be acknowledged and mask mandates should be ended, while 40 percent said rules should be based on the situation that local communities are currently facing. Another 25 percent said mask mandates should remain, no matter what.

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