Seniors Feeling Whiplash From CDC’s New Mask Mandate

Just three days ago, on May 16, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released an updated mask and social distance mandate. The new guidance suggests that fully vaccinated people can go without masks in most indoor situations and outdoors has sparked confusion amid the general public, faced resistance by some health experts, and imposed inconsistencies among businesses and local jurisdictions. 

More than half of adults are fully vaccinated in the region, but much of Washington still remains at “substantial” or “high” risk of coronavirus transmission, according to the CDC’s criteria. And like elsewhere in the U.S., vaccination rates vary significantly within the state — often low-income neighborhoods and communities of color lag behind more affluent areas.

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To mask or not to mask

The switch from emphasizing the importance of wearing masks then suddenly okaying fully vaccinated people to not wear masks has felt like whiplash to some seniors. Even health experts expressed shock in the days following the CDC’s updated guidance, with some arguing the loosened recommendations go too far and risk jeopardizing the country’s recovery from the pandemic. 

“What it did was give the indication to people that the pandemic is over,” says Dr. Mark Larson, the health officer in rural Kittitas County, Wash., who calls the governor’s decision “premature.”

“We don’t see the incentive. … Most of the folks that are not really wanting to be vaccinated have probably not already been wearing masks,” Dr. Larson added.

Conflicted seniors

In an interview given by NPR, older adults seem to have mixed feelings about unmasking as well. “It’s confusing because I feel like a couple of weeks ago everybody was saying, ‘Oh, my gosh, there are so many cases — wear your mask,’ ” said Jennifer Geer. “Now all of a sudden, we’ve swung the pendulum the other way, which seems bizarre.”

But some who are fully vaccinated are more than happy to trust the judgment of state and federal scientists. “If they say it’s OK to take the mask off, I’m assuming that’s fine,” says Javier Reyna. “If you’re not vaccinated and you want to take a risk, that’s your problem — I did what I was supposed to do. People want to live their lives normally again, so I think it’s a positive thing.”

As of May 19, these are the U.S. states and territories without mask mandates:

Alabama | Alaska | Arizona | Arkansas | Colorado | Florida | Georgia | Idaho | Indiana | Iowa | Kansas | Louisiana | Maryland | Minnesota | Mississippi | Missouri | Montana | Nebraska | New Hampshire | North Carolina | North Dakota | Northern Mariana Islands | Oklahoma | South Carolina | South Dakota | Tennessee | Texas | Utah | Wisconsin | Wyoming

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