When U.S. health officials said on Thursday (13) that fully vaccinated Americans no longer need to wear masks in most places, it came as a surprise to many working in public health. . It was also in stark contrast to the opinion of the vast majority of epidemiologists polled by The New York Times in the past two weeks.
In an informal survey, 80% of professionals said they believe Americans should still wear masks in public enclosures for at least a year. Only 5% said people could stop using them indoors this summer in the northern hemisphere.
In large outdoor crowds, such as concerts or demonstrations, 88% of epidemiologists said wearing masks was necessary, even for people who were fully vaccinated.
“Unless the vaccination rate increases from 80% to 90% in the coming months, we should wear masks in large, closed public environments,” said Vivian Towe, program director at the Research Institute on patient-centered outcomes.
Responses from 723 epidemiologists were sent between April 28 and May 10, ahead of new guidelines from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The survey consulted with public health experts about being outdoors in groups of different sizes and being indoors with people with unknown immunization status.
The situations were in line with the new directive that governs behavior in public places, regardless of their size, where it is impossible to know if other people have been vaccinated.
Federal officials have said those vaccinated can stay indoors with other vaccinated people, and most epidemiologists have agreed. But the new CDC guideline says fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear a mask, regardless of the size of the meeting or whether the venue is closed or open, except in certain situations, such as on public transport. .
Many epidemiologists, on the other hand, have joined the CDC, saying that as long as people are fully vaccinated, they can meet without precaution. But the health agency went beyond epidemiologists, allowing vaccinated people to stop wearing masks in groups with an unknown number of unvaccinated people. “You either trust the vaccine or you don’t,” said Kristin Harrington, a doctoral candidate in epidemiology at Emory University. “If we trust the vaccine, it means that an unlimited number of vaccinated individuals must be able to come together.”
Other respondents expressed reservations that, as the virus continues to spread, masks are important to protect those at high risk and those who cannot be vaccinated, such as children or those suffering from underlying health problems. “Until community transmission decreases, wearing masks protects the entire community and others in the room,” including children, people with compromised immune systems, and the black and Latin communities that have been hit hardest. by Covid-19, said Julia Raifman, a public health teacher-assistant in Boston. University.
A quarter of epidemiologists surveyed said they believe people should continue to wear masks in certain environments indefinitely, and some say they intend to continue wearing them in places like airplanes or theaters, or during virus season in the American winter.
“I think I’ll wear a mask every flu season now,” said Allison Stewart, a leading epidemiologist in the Williamson County Health District, Texas. “It was really nice not to be sick for over a year.”
Translation by Luiz Roberto M. Gonçalves