The United States’ decision to allow vaccinated Americans to take off mask in public places is a test case for rest of the world, especially in regions where infections are tapering down and vaccination is in full swing.
The most awaited announcement in the pandemic era came this week from the US where Centre for Disease Control and Prevention said those who have received both the doses of vaccines can safely move around without mask. But the announcement has drawn widespread criticism from local officials and the country’s largest union of nurses.
While the announcement sounded great, the CDC guidelines subsequently provided more details and created confusion nationwide. Days after the new mask rules came into effect, Americans are unsure what is allowed or not.
For example, people can jog without a mask but it is not clear if they can visit a coffee shop or a neighbour’s house unmasked. The CDC rules are not straightforward and sometimes clash with guidelines issued by states, cities and even neighbourhoods.
Responding to the criticism, the CDC on Sunday sought to clear confusion by saying that only unvaccinated people are at risk by unmasking. Still, opinions remain divided on should people continue wearing mask or not. Some experts say communities with high number of cases must keep the masking requirement.
Looks like de-masking vaccinated Americans will be a complex and long-drawn affair, much like last year when health officials had to plead with people to cover up.
There are no doubts that masks saved lives and prevented infections for almost 16 months since the pandemic began. Now that infections are going down in Western countries, thanks to vaccination, the process of de-masking is going to take time.
Utmost caution required
Countries that are confident enough to consider opening up and lift restrictions will learn from the US experience. What is required before they consider following the US model is utmost caution and a staggered approach instead of allowing people to take off mask in one go.
Still, governments must understand that hurried de-masking of populations is fraught with risks. Countries had to make huge efforts to ensure mask compliance last year and allowing them to remove it must be based on science, infection load and inoculation coverage. Once people are allowed to remove the mask, it will be tough to reimpose the rules should the situation demand.
Mask has played a big role in containing outbreaks and there is scientific evidence that higher compliance leads to reduced infections and mortalities. That is why, nations must adopt a cautious approach and wait for vaccination of sizeable section of population before following the US.