Focusing on personal responsibility is still not a good way to manage public health

Public health and community experts across the country are still struggling to understand the new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention mask recommendations. The CDC said last week that it no longer believes that people fully vaccinated against COVID-19 should wear masks in most situations. But cases of COVID-19 are still high in many places, and less than 40 percent of people in the United States are fully vaccinated.

In an effort to clarify and explain the agency’s thinking, CDC Director Rochelle Walenski focused on the risk that COVID-19 poses to every person who decides to wear a mask or not to wear a mask. People who have been vaccinated may decide to skip the mask knowing they are safer, and people who are not vaccinated should keep them or sign up for a shot. If they are not wearing a mask, they may be at greater risk of contracting COVID-19.

“I can say that people are responsible for their own health,” said Walensky. PBS NewsHour… “If you are not vaccinated, that, again, takes responsibility for your own health.” She published a similar language on twitter: “Your health is in your hands.”

But a year before the COVID-19 pandemic, if we have learned one thing about infectious diseases, it is that our health is never in our hands. This is a basic public health message: even if people do their best to stay healthy, they can still get sick. If there are more viruses in the community, everyone is at greater risk, no matter what precautions they take.

Avoiding mask recommendations can still be a good – or at least a smart decision. New guidelines could encourage more people to get vaccinated. COVID-19 vaccines also work very well: Fully vaccinated people have a very low risk of contracting and developing the disease, so they may not need additional mask protection. They also pose little danger to others: they are very unlikely to have COVID-19, and if they do get the virus, they probably won’t have enough of it in their bodies for them to pass it on. someone else. Thus, they do not need a mask to prevent potentially infectious particles from entering the room.

But it is disappointing that Walenski chose to emphasize the transfer of personal responsibility as justification – just four weeks after the right to vaccine became available to all adults (and just days after children from 12 up to 15 years old). People who have recently been vaccinated are still not fully vaccinated. Others may not have taken the time to schedule a snapshot about their working hours.

Given these constraints, placing the burden of security on individuals makes life difficult for everyone. For example, in response to the CDC announcement, stores such as Walmart and Costco no longer require customers to wear masks. Most say unvaccinated people still need to wear masks, but they are not going to ask for proof that someone is vaccinated before they go shopping.

Anyone who is not vaccinated can easily decide not to wear a mask at Walmart. Indoors, such as a crowded store, they will be more at risk of contracting COVID-19, especially in an area where the virus is still circulating. This person takes their health into their own hands, but also puts those around them at risk.

Children under 12 years of age cannot yet be vaccinated, and even with a mask, they can get infected from an unvaccinated adult without a mask. Even people who are vaccinated people are at increased risk. Vaccinations are not perfect, and some are vaccinated, otherwise healthy people will still get COVID-19. The situation is worse for people with weakened immune systems, such as people who have had organ transplants. For them, even if they manage to get vaccinated, their vaccine may not work as well as someone else’s.

The degree of risk associated with removing a mask is not only determined by the vaccination status of the person who decides to remove it. It is also influenced by the decisions of the people around them – whether they decide to take off their masks and whether they are vaccinated. Health, as always, is collective. The way the CDC talks about its decisions should reflect that.