Column: States and schools should reinstate mask mandates

By Trish Zornio, Michigan Advance

If we don’t act now, masks could become a long-term fashion accessory.

In the past 14 days, the United States has seen tremendous growth in COVID-19 cases again. This has included a 36% increase in hospitalizations and a 26% increase in deaths. With the more transmissible delta variant, infection rates are likely to keep rising quickly. As expected, over 99% of deaths and 97% of hospitalizations were in unvaccinated people.

If you’re vaccinated, it doesn’t affect you then, right?

Wrong.

It’s tempting to shrug off rising cases and let evolution take its course — particularly if you’re a fed up Democrat watching COVID-dismissing Republicans kill off their base.

But here are three selfish reasons that even vaccinated people should still wear masks:

  1. The vaccines are great at preventing hospitalization and deaths, but they may not prevent infection by the new delta variant. While many people who get COVID-19 will be unaffected, some mild to moderate cases may still carry an increased risk for long-term health effects. In one study, over 10,000 patients were followed after diagnosis of COVID-19. Over six months, researchers found that those diagnosed with COVID-19 had an increased likelihood over their non-COVID-19 counterparts to have seen a general practitioner, to have been prescribed short-term acting bronchodilators (for asthma), and to have been diagnosed with dyspnoea (shortness of breath) or venous thromboembolisms (deep vein blood clots). The rates of hospitalizations were no different, but the risk of chronic symptoms is nothing to sneeze at.
  2. Even if you don’t get sick or die, you can still spread the virus. This not only means you increase the risks for those who are unable to get vaccinated, but you’re increasing the overall cases and therefore the chances that a mutation could ultimately evade vaccines. That’s bad news for vaccinated people.
  3. Hospitals have limited capacities. Many facilities are already experiencing shortages in beds, staff and ventilators again due to the increase of cases. If you need access to emergency care for anything from heart attacks to strokes or car accidents, it may not be available. Also, the longer hospitals remain full the more likely medical staff are to burn out, and health insurance premiums could go up as hospital costs rise. Those are downers for everyone.

Now that you’re hopefully reminded of why even vaccinated people should care about reducing cases, it’s time for the vaccinated to start applying heavy pressure on business owners and elected officials to support vaccine and mask mandates. Gone are the days of hoping people will do the right thing — they won’t, so community leaders need to step up.

The timing is especially crucial as schools are set to resume in-person classes for the upcoming year. The American Academy of Pediatrics just announced that in addition to vaccinations, it also supports universal masking. This is one step further than the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, which currently state that only unvaccinated people are required to wear masks. Contacting your local school district in support of the AAP and universal vaccine and mask mandates would be a great first step to keep students, teachers, staff, parents and the community at large safe.

The same is true for universities. Upon closer inspection, many so-called vaccine mandates implemented in higher education have personal exemptions. Combined with institutions not allowing faculty to ask students if they are vaccinated or to require masks in offices and classrooms, this could serve as an incubator for the virus. Contacting your local university in support of non-exemption vaccine and mask mandates would help ensure cases remain low in college towns.

Ideally, we’d all sit back and let everyone do as they please. Unfortunately, viruses don’t work that way — it’s a team effort whether we like it or not.

This column first ran in the Advance’s sister outlet, Colorado Newsline. Read the column here.

Michigan Advance is part of States Newsroom, a network of news outlets supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Michigan Advance maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Susan Demas for questions: info@michiganadvance.com. Follow Michigan Advance on Facebook and Twitter.