Another COVID-19 Catch-22

By: Gitty Boshnack  |  August 19, 2021

By Gitty Boshnack, Science & Technology Editor

Maskinators: While this sounds like a COVID and Terminator mashup or some crazy sci-fi movie, it’s our reality. Many people who were vaccinated earlier this year thought that they would no longer be required to wear masks in public areas.While it definitely wasn’t the only consideration for me, it was undoubtedly an important one. With the rise of the Delta Variant, the Federal Government has been pushing states to institute mask mandates. About 50% of the US population is vaccinated for COVID-19, and 90% of the 60+ age group is vaccinated.  Why then is the government pushing for masking after vaccinating?

The daily Covid-19 case rate for the past seven days is at 99,727, but the dead toll for the past seven days is consistently at 454, which does not differ much from the previous week. There is a significant disconnect between the death rate and the case rate. This shows that the panic that’s ripping through the media may not be entirely necessary.  In February 2021, when we had the same rate of infections, we also had about 2,569 deaths per day.  As reported by the New York Times editorial board, the Delta surge is poised to be less severe than previous surges in the United States. The current variant, however fast its infecting is not as threatening as what we’ve seen prior. That’s why the Delta Variant is so contagious– because people can pass it along and continue their daily living while they are sick with it. 

CNN reports that people who vaccinate reduce their chances for reinfection by at least half. However, the majority of vaccinated people will be prevented from severe illness and death. There has yet to be a vaccine developed that can prevent infection that would require a different sort of vaccine, and this is why we are seeing thousands of cases of reinfection. Rochelle Walensky, the head of the CDC, said in an interview, “I think we all have to recognize that with 164 million people who are vaccinated, we should expect tens of thousands, perhaps, of breakthrough infections.” 

The issue is that when public officials start instating mask mandates, the public deduces the vaccines are ineffective, which creates additional vaccine hesitancy. This is the wrong message to send because the vaccines effectively do what they are supposed to do: prevent death. This brings us to the current catch-22; while the public health officials want to institute mask mandates to stop the spread of the Delta Variant, they end up promoting mask hesitancy. In addition, if we’re encouraging mask-wearing on top of vaccination, the message given is that the masks are stronger than the vaccines. In the end, though the Delta Variant spread may be slowed by the masking and quarantining, fewer people will vaccinate, and when the next variant comes around, we’ll be in the same place as we are now. 

It is unilaterally agreed upon that vaccinations will bring the pandemic to its end. The problem is that the mask culture war continues until the population reaches a higher level of herd immunity. We, the younger population, trail dramatically in terms of the percentage that are vaccinated. Between the Federal and Local governments and us, we have the upper hand in convincing our unvaccinated friends. Notwithstanding our moral responsibility to promote safety and the wellbeing of our peers, if we want to see the end of the pandemic, we must encourage our unvaccinated peers to get vaccinated.