It might make some people uncomfortable. Others may say it’s too soon. But governor Dan McKee’s decision to end Rhode Island’s state mask mandate is the right choice.
McKee announced the move on Friday, stating that fully-vaccinated Rhode Islanders won’t be required to wear masks or social distance in most instances. Masks will still be required in Rhode Island schools, McKee said.
McKee’s decision echoes new recommendations from the CDC, which have drawn criticism from some for relying on the honor system. Experts interviewed by USA Today said unvaccinated Americans will flout rules and evade punishment.
“This is not going to work,” Kang Lee, a professor who studies honesty at the University of Toronto, told USA Today. “When people show up at the grocery store, if you ask them, have you gotten the vaccination, they’ll be more likely to say yes.”
That’s obviously true. People who have not been vaccinated will lie, undermining public health in the process. But the science is also clear: According to the CDC, outside of clinical trials, vaccines have been shown to be “well over 90 percent” effective. Nearly half of Rhode Islanders are fully vaccinated, and 57 percent have received at least one dose.
“This was not permission to shed masks for everybody everywhere,” CDC director Rochelle Walensky said Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press. “This was really science driven, individual assessment of your risk.”
For better or for worse, through mangled messaging, we’ve been listening to the CDC for guidance throughout the pandemic. We’ve been told to follow their guidelines and we’re all the better for it.
Now that the CDC is recommending it is safe for vaccinated individuals to be in public without masks, McKee is right to follow that advice.
It’s true that not everyone in Rhode Island is vaccinated. Ending the state mandate does not end county and municipal mandates, providing the flexibility in hotspots and areas with low vaccination rates to continue the use of masks.
There’s another factor at work: confusion and frustration. Despite clinical trials showing vaccines to be highly effective, many Americans — myself included — were frustrated when guidance for fully-vaccinated individuals barely differed from those who were not immunized. It begged the question: Will we ever return to normal?
This decision, made by the CDC and followed by McKee, takes that into consideration. It presents a unified message, matched by science, that we’re entering the final stage of the pandemic and taking the final steps towards normal life.
It’s a decision that makes sense to Rhode Islanders. Public opinion should never influence scientific recommendations, but in this case, the two agree. McKee’s decision reflects that.
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