Navigating the Great Unmasking

Its been more than a year since the world came to a screeching halt as COVID-19 began working its way through the state and the county, killing thousands and sickening even more.

And throughout that time, pulling on a mask to interact with strangers became a matter of course – a sign of good hygiene just like handwashing and covering your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough.

And now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has announced that masks are no longer needed among the vaccinated, causing some amount of confusion and worry among a populace that has spent the better part of a year conditioning themselves to wear one.

And as serious as the pandemic was, it was surprising to many that suddenly showing off the bottom half of your face was safe if you were vaccinated.

But, experts said, that last part of the sentence is the big part of the announcement — if you are vaccinated.

“There’s good science to indicate that, in an ideal world where everyone does follow these guidelines, fully vaccinated people really can feel comfortable taking their masks off,” Brian Resnick wrote in his article about the reticence to give up masking on Vox. “These vaccines are really good. They prevent disease, infection, and transmission the majority of the time. And the best thing an individual can do to help end the pandemic is to get vaccinated.”

As of April 26, roughly 95 million people in the U.S. were fully vaccinated. Of that number, a little more than 9,000 ended up getting COVID-19 anyway — what scientists call a “breakthrough infection” – which is about .01 percent of those vaccinated.

And of those breakthrough infections, only .001 percent or so were sick enough to be hospitalized.

“Recently, a 5,000-patient study out of Israel compared cases of breakthrough infections (after vaccination) with infections that occurred among the unvaccinated,” the article continued. “Simply put: The study found that those who had breakthrough infections also had smaller quantities of virus than people who weren’t vaccinated.

This study did not include information on symptom severity. But lower viral loads have been correlated with lower disease severity; they also lower the risk of transmission to other people.”

In short, yes, there is a small chance you might contract COVID even if you’re vaccinated, but if you do, it will be less severe, and your viral load will be low enough that you might not even pass it along to other people.

(Read: Our ongoing coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic)

Dr. Katelyn Jetelina, who runs the popular Facebook page “Your local epidemiologist,” shared her thoughts on how to navigate masking and unmasking at schools.

Jetelina will also be on hand for a webinar tonight about vaccines and children.

Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson, Digital Editor at People Newspapers, cut her teeth on community journalism, starting in Arkansas. Recently, she's taken home a few awards for her writing, including first place for her tornado coverage from the National Newspapers Association's 2020 Better Newspaper Contest, a Gold award for Best Series at the 2018 National Association of Real Estate Editors journalism awards, a 2018 Hugh Aynesworth Award for Editorial Opinion from the Dallas Press Club, and a 2019 award from NAREE for a piece linking Medicaid expansion with housing insecurity. She is a member of the Education Writers Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, the National Association of Real Estate Editors, the News Leaders Association, the News Product Alliance, and the Online News Association. She doesn't like lima beans, black licorice or the word synergy. You can reach her at [email protected].

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