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To wear a mask or not to wear a mask? New CDC guidelines cause some confusion

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Jennifer Geer
Jennifer Geer

With no way to verify if customers are vaccinated or not, Illinois business owners are left to make up their own rules
(Josh Howard/Unsplash)

You've heard by now the CDC has revised its mask guidelines. They've gone from mandating everyone wear masks in public all of the time to recommending only unvaccinated individuals need to cover their faces.

There are exceptions, such as when traveling, riding on public transportation, in homeless shelters, and detention centers. But in restaurants, bars, churches, grocery stores, and just about everywhere else, vaccinated people can now go mask-free.

Local and state regulations still apply, and as of Saturday morning, masks remain required for everyone in Illinois.

Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, said at a press briefing on Thursday, "We have all longed for this moment - when we can get back to some sense of normalcy – and that moment has come for those who are fully vaccinated!"

Watch for the mask mandate to get relaxed in Illinois at any time.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker has announced he will revise the mask mandate to follow the new CDC guidelines. “I firmly believe in following the science, and will revise my executive orders in line with CDC guidelines lifting additional mitigations for vaccinated people. The scientists’ message is clear: if you are vaccinated, you can safely do much more."

Though changes to the mask mandate have not been announced as of Saturday morning for Chicago, the city will most likely follow the updated guidelines.

Chicago, and the state of Illinois, have already entered the Bridge Phase of reopening, where businesses can exempt nonvaccinated people from exemption limits.

Major Illinois retail stores are already beginning to announce relaxed mask policies. Although, masks are currently still required due to local and state mandates.

For now, customers at Target, CVS, Meijer, Home Depot, and Walgreens must keep masks on whether they are vaccinated or not. Although, this could change as businesses reevaluate their policies.

Walmart, Sam's Club, Costco, and Trader Joe's announced on Friday that vaccinated customers will no longer need face coverings in their stores. Of course, they must still follow state mandates until those are lifted.

For the businesses that intend to drop the mask mandate for vaccinated individuals, there has been no indication that proof of vaccination will be required. Instead, it will most likely be based on the honor system.

The CDC seems to be hoping that unvaccinated people will follow the rules and wear masks, but there is no way to enforce it.

It's exciting news to some that we are making our way back to pre-pandemic life. But others worry it's too fast too soon.

Not everyone who is fully vaccinated plans to stop wearing a mask immediately, and some feel the turnaround is happening too quickly. Labor groups have concerns that the new policies will leave employees exposed and unprotected, or that businesses will be forced to act as the "vaccination police."

Parents of young children are another group that may not be willing to ditch the masks any time soon. Children aged 12 to 15 can now get a Covid vaccine in Illinois, but kids under the age of 12 are not eligible to be vaccinated yet. And they won't be until fall or even the end of 2021.

Many parents wonder how they are supposed to model mask-wearing behavior to young children without wearing masks themselves. Or how they can know that person without a mask in the grocery store standing next to their unvaccinated child is fully vaccinated.

Dr. Allison Bartlett, an epidemiologist at Comer Children's Hospital in Chicago told ABC 7 Chicago, "I don't know how powerful of an incentive it's going to be to get vaccinated and then not have to wear your mask when you could honestly lie and say you're vaccinated, and not wear your mask." She is concerned letting people go unmasked will result in another surge.

Only 36.2% of Americans are fully vaccinated today. In Illinois, it's 36.8%. Without any plausible way of showing proof of vaccination, we must trust unvaccinated people to continue to voluntarily wear their masks to protect others. The ones that need protection the most are the immune-compromised individuals and children that are unable to get vaccinated.

The CDC seems to think these new rules will incentivize unvaccinated people to get vaccinated. But there is no reason not to expect both vaccinated and unvaccinated people to ditch the masks as soon as the mandates are lifted, leaving parents of young children and the medically vulnerable to figure things out on their own.

Yes, children have less risk of severe Covid symptoms than older people, but the risk isn't zero. Children can get severe cases of Covid and in rare instances, they have developed MIS-C, a life-threatening complication.

We also don't understand the long-term effects of Covid yet. Many individuals that tested positive but had no symptoms have developed complications like heart inflammation and lung damage.

The new rules will leave business owners to make their own decisions on how to move forward. And it will require parents of young children and people that are medically fragile to determine how best to protect themselves from possibly encountering unvaccinated people without masks.

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