Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Rochelle Walensky recommended Tuesday that Americans living in areas with high Covid-19 case counts should wear masks, even if they have been vaccinated, when they share indoor public space with others. US Capitol Attending Physician Brian Monahan responded immediately by issuing a mask mandate for the House chamber and congressional office buildings. Then all hell broke loose.
A number of Republican House members openly refused to mask up; US Representative Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) reportedly took a mask upon entering the House chamber Wednesday and promptly tossed it on the floor. House minority leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) announced, “Make no mistake: The threat of bringing masks back is not a decision based on science, but a decision conjured up by liberal government officials who want to continue to live in a perpetual pandemic state.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) responded succinctly.
“He’s such a moron,” she said of McCarthy.
That’s a fair assessment of the Republican leader in general, and more specifically with regard to his dangerously irresponsible griping about masking in Washington and across the country.
Far from being the overreach of “liberal government officials who want to continue to live in a perpetual pandemic state,” mask recommendations and mandates as they are currently being proposed represent a compromise position. The CDC is recommending indoor mask wearing only in regions with substantial or high transmission.
That’s a credible first step, explains the National Nurses United union’s executive director, Bonnie Castillo, RN. But the CDC has not gone as far in responding to growing concerns about the Delta variant as the nurses believe is necessary.
“As registered nurses, we always course correct when a care plan for our patient must be adjusted in order to promote optimal healing. We applaud the CDC for adjusting its care plan for this country by recommending a partial return to indoor masking for vaccinated people,” says Castillo. “A fundamental tenet of public health is that our health is interconnected and we all must work together to control this pandemic. The Delta variant is increasingly showing us that vaccinated people can become infected and spread the virus, so this new guidance will help us all protect one another—and it will save lives. But, because we all must be responsible for one another, the CDC should take the next logical step and urge indoor masking everywhere in the country.”
The nurses union, which has been at the forefront of the fight to address the pandemic since it began last year, and which has been warning for months about the spread of the Delta variant, argues that masking should be “universal, in all settings, for all people, regardless of vaccination status.”
“Rather than making people figure out if they are in a substantial or high transmission area, or leaving public health up to the honor system, registered nurses recommend reinstating universal masking in all locations, regardless of vaccination status,” says NNU President Deborah Burger, RN. “Masking is not a matter of personal choice; it’s a matter of public health, and we know that today’s moderate transmission area is tomorrow’s high transmission area. We’re all in this together, and none of us are safe until all of us are safe.”
The union argues that in addition to a robust vaccination initiative, what’s needed now is “a comprehensive public health program that also must include universal masking in all settings (not just limited to some areas of the country), tracking breakthrough infections, distancing, screening and testing, contact tracing and case isolation, ventilation, and for health care workers, optimal, single-use PPE, safe staffing, the ability to quarantine, proper isolation of patients, and more.”
For Americans who are tired of masks, and frustrated by public health orders, that may be frustrating.
Sometimes science-based responses to genuine and growing threats can be tiresome, and frustrating. But frustration is nothing when the alternative could be another fall and winter of lockdowns, shuttered schools and businesses, outbreaks, spiking infections and death totals.
“This pandemic is far from over and we are, in fact, at a new critical crossroads with cases surging again. We nurses know that to protect the lives of our patients, our colleagues, and all essential workers, we must use multiple layers of protection to drastically reduce Covid cases. Science shows the multiple-measures approach is the most effective and something we can implement now,” says Burger. “Masking is a cheap, effective, and simple way to limit the spread of this virus.”
That’s a scientific fact, no matter what Kevin McCarthy tell you.