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To Mask or Not To Mask?

We are entering a new phase of our experience with the coronavirus pandemic. The country is opening up, and unvaccinated people are being left in the dust of everyone rushing to go back to normal. Masks are a huge part of keeping us safe from COVID-19, and it’s recently been announced by the CDC that fully vaccinated people do not need to wear masks anymore. Of half Northwest students who have been fully vaccinated, 43% said they will still be wearing their masks when it’s not required, while 3% said they would not and 53% said it depends. This data is a testament to the confusing transitional period we are in right now. King County is still urging fully vaccinated people to wear masks in retail and grocery stores, restaurants, government buildings, and offices and other places of employment that are open to the public. They are also asking businesses to still require masks for customers and employees but big chain stores like Target and Starbucks have announced they will no longer be requiring customers to wear masks. If you’re not fully vaccinated, mask mandates as they have been in place for the past year still apply. 

While businesses must require their employees prove they are fully vaccinated, they can’t ask every customer who walks in the door to pull out their vaccine card for proof. Businesses can however legally turn away customers for any reason, including not being fully vaccinated. Not requiring fully vaccinated people to wear masks came with a risk that officials were aware of, and they decided to accept that risk for the sake of getting back to normal, but that doesn’t stop it from being scary. 

From the half of Northwest students who have not been fully vaccinated yet the majority (81%) said they will be wearing their masks, 13% said maybe, and only 4% said they wouldn’t be wearing their masks anymore. This brings up the question of the honor system that many people have been calling into question in relation to being vaccinated. 

One Northwest student said “I hope that most people still wear a mask because we can’t tell just by looking at someone if they’re vaccinated. We won’t know if someone is vaccinated or an Anti-masker.” Another student raised a good point saying: “The no mask rule is literally the stupidest thing I have ever heard ever. It’s only rich white communities that have enough vaccinated people to reach herd immunity. The whitest states have the most vaccinated people and the states with the most Black people have very low vaccination rates. This is actively putting Black people at risk. How are we supposed to end a pandemic on an honor system? It’s absolutely ridiculous. Also it’s not even safe to not wear a mask when you’re fully vaccinated and immunocompromised. This law is for the white rich privileged and nobody else.”  COVID-19 disproportionately affected communities of color, and yet they are among the slowest to get vaccinated. This is a result of a long history of deceit and abuse from the healthcare system against POC. In 20 of the states, the percentage of Black people who received COVID vaccines is half or less than the proportion of Black COVID cases. In the entire country 61% of people who have been fully vaccinated are white (Kaiser family foundation). 

There is a long standing distrust between POC and the healthcare system starting. The american healthcare system has performed gruesome experiments on enslaved people, forced native american women to be sterilized, and justified horrible descirimination with ‘medical facts’. The fear of abuse by the healthcare system isn’t just generational trauma from things that don’t happen anymore. There is still descrimination today in the healthcare system. POC are less likely to be treated for pain because of stereotypes about drug addiciton and pain tolerance (which is rooted in slavery). In an October 2020 poll, 7 of 10 Black Americans say they’re treated unfairly by the health care system and 55% percent say they distrust it. This experience is incredibly different from that of those who chose not to get vaccinated because they’re scared of being implanted with a government tracking chip. POC who are hesitant to get vaccinated are justified in their fear and deserve grace and empathy from those of us who are vaccinated. We need to work as hard as we can to keep everyone safe from this virus until it has truly passed.  

There is a lot of confusion around the science of the coronavirus, but the reason we wear masks is because COVID-19 is an airborne illness that is passed from one person to another through respiratory droplets (Respiratory droplets are little balls of saliva and moisture that are released from your mouth and nose when you sneeze, cough, or talk). We have learned an incredible amount of information about this virus over the past year and how we act about it has shown that. When the pandemic started every grocery store across the country was sold out of hand sanitizer (and toilet paper…) and while keeping your hands clean is always a good practice, studies show that even though COVID-19 can stay on a surface for up to 72 hours the likelihood that you will get sick from touching a surface someone with coronavirus has touched is very low. Masks are the best way to protect yourself and others from getting sick, but now they’re being thrown out the window, or more likely in your trash can. Fully vaccinated people have a much lower chance of getting sick and if they do their symptoms will be almost none. Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are 95% effective on protecting people from getting COVID-19. There has been much speculation however on whether or not fully vaccinated people can transmit COVID-19 to non-vaccinated people. According to Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease expert at University of California at San Francisco School of Medicine, “The more evidence we get, it appears it’s very unlikely for a vaccinated person to transfer the virus to someone else.” Bottom line, If you do get infected the chances of you passing on the virus is very low.  

 There is a fear that the CDCs announcement is marking the so-called end of the pandemic while in truth it is far from over. People are going back to normal and acting like this virus isn’t still an issue. There are still variants, anti-vaxxers, and disproportionate vaccination rollout to worry about. Masks are a necessity still so don’t go throwing them all out yet. We have to fight this pandemic until the end to keep everyone safe. Even 10 years from now you still may want to mask up if you’re feeling under the weather and don’t want to get anyone sick. So, stay safe Northwest and have an amazing (COVID free) summer! 

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