May 27, 2021 – The CDC’s new, more relaxed mask for fully vaccinated people has been greeted with joy and relief by many U.S. residents. But the May 13 announcement divided the medical community over whether it was the right decision, according to new results from the WebMD / Medscape poll.
Of 660 U.S. doctors surveyed, 57% said the CDC jumped the gun on prematurely relaxing the restrictions. Other healthcare professionals have taken a similar stance, with 63% of 1,330 nurses believing the mask change came too soon.
The CDC says people vaccinated against COVID-19 are no longer required to wear masks or physically move, regardless of the location or size of the gathering. There are a few exceptions, including public transportation, hospitals, homeless shelters, and prisons.
CDC director Rochelle Walensky, MD, said three large studies on the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines against the original virus and its variants have helped inform new directions. An Israeli study found the vaccine to be 97% effective against symptomatic infection.
But many doctors and public health experts say vaccination rates are not yet high enough.
“The CDC should not have removed the restrictions without requiring proof of vaccination,” tweeted Carlos del Rio, MD, infectious disease expert and executive associate dean at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. “They could have said: It is always appropriate to continue hiding in places where unvaccinated and vaccinated people mix, like grocery stores.”
Epidemiologist and Health Economist Eric Feigl-Ding, PhD, tweeted Similar disapproval: “Not at all satisfied – In a sharp turnaround from previous advice, the CDC said on Thursday that fully vaccinated vaccinees could stop wearing masks or maintaining social distancing in most indoor and outdoor environments, regardless or their size, independently of the others. Too early.”
Others remain concerned about more vulnerable communities struggling with access issues that remain unprotected.
“If the United States had had the vaccination rates for black communities (around 27%), I don’t think the CDC would have changed the masking guidelines,” tweeted pediatrician Rhea Boyd, MD. “We need to change the guidelines when it is reasonable and safe for the most vulnerable populations, not those who are most in need. “
Non-medical professionals are also divided on the issue. Of 2,140 WebMD readers, 49% said the changes came too soon and 51% said they would continue to wear masks in all indoor public spaces. A total of 19% said they would not wear a mask at all in public – coincidentally the same percentage of respondents who expressed no interest in receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.
National Nurses United, the largest union of registered nurses in the United States, issued a statement saying the change puts people, especially frontline workers, at risk.
“This latest CDC guideline is not science-based, does not protect public health, and threatens the lives of patients, nurses and other frontline workers across the country,” said Bonnie Castillo, RN and general manager of the union. “Now is not the time to relax protective measures, and we are outraged that the CDC has done just that while we are still in the midst of the deadliest pandemic in a century.”
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