Tom Clyde: Clear as mud
With great excitement, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced some new guidelines for wearing masks. With a fairly high percentage of the population now vaccinated, everybody was wondering when and where it was still considered necessary to wear a mask. It’s easy here in Utah. The Legislature has decided that we don’t need to wear no stinkin’ masks. The Legislature is mostly people in the real estate development business, and if you can’t rely on Realtors for medical advice, who can you trust?
But the feds seem to think that people are still wearing masks, and decided to change the guidelines in light of the encouraging vaccination rate around the country. In their effort to simplify things, they issued two charts, one for indoor activity and the other for outdoors. Since there wasn’t a prior chart to compare it to, it’s hard to see what the changes are. Previously we had color-coded panic levels, and all of us fully understood how we were supposed to modify behavior when the level moved from yellow to orange. Yeah, right. That was useful.
On the indoor chart, they are still recommending people wear masks pretty much everywhere. For example, it suggests wearing a mask while attending “a full capacity worship service.” There is no recommendation on a less-than-full-capacity service. Nor is there a distinction between the kind of “stand up and shout” church services and the more austere variety where people sit silently in the pews contemplating the sins of their neighbors. Vaccinated or not, indoor activities are still supposed to be masked events, according to the CDC.
The CDC announced with great excitement that fully vaccinated people are no longer expected to wear a mask when running, cycling or hiking. Did anybody ever wear a mask while running or biking? Masks were required in the lift lines this winter, but it’s impossible to ski moguls or anything else that gets you breathing hard with a mask on without fogging your goggles. The whole point in being outside was that there was enough air moving around that we were relatively safe.
The recommendations are a little different for fully vaccinated and unvaccinated people. For example, according to the CDC chart, everyone is safe to “attend a small outdoor gathering with fully vaccinated family and friends” without a mask. Even the unvaccinated are safe to attend such a fully vaccinated gathering — except that if there is an unvaccinated person attending, it is no longer a “gathering with fully vaccinated family and friends.” Your barbecue can’t be fully vaccinated if there is an unvaccinated guest there. Vaccinate the steaks to be safe.
At big outdoor events like sporting events, parades, concerts and so on, everybody is still supposed to wear masks, regardless of their vaccination status, except in Utah where the Legislature has said we have immunity by legislative decree.
So once again, as it has been through this entire plague year, the messaging is unclear, inconsistent and not useful in assessing your risk factors. The CDC chart doesn’t take into account factors like the level of community spread. In Michigan, they are sneezing the plague on each other in the highest contagion levels seen so far. Vaccinated or not, wearing a hazmat suit in Michigan seems like a good idea. Spread levels are way down in other areas. Things seems pretty calm here now that the tourist season is at a low point, though we can expect that to change.
Vaccination levels vary widely. According to KSL, Utah has fully vaccinated about 37% of the population older than 16. Summit County has vaccinated 43% of the total population. Salt Lake County is at 29%, and the lowest rate is the health department covering Duchesne/Uintah/Daggett and counties, with only 19%. Part of the wide difference is the percentage of children under 16 in some areas. Suburbs like Saratoga Springs, west of Utah Lake, have only vaccinated 19% of their total population. In Park City, the figure is 45%, but our percentage of people younger than 16 is much smaller than Saratoga Springs. It’s hard to know how much resistance to vaccination there is, but we’re a long way from the 70% or more that experts say will allow us to hit “herd immunity.”
So as plans for Memorial Day barbecues begin to take shape, you have to consider whether to invite unvaccinated friends or family members, or possibly to set up a table in the far reaches of the backyard for the pariah section where the unvaccinated can sit together, masked and safely downwind from the rest of the group.
Fortunately, we now have the handy CDC chart that clarifies all of this. In a group that is comprised of fully vaccinated, partially vaccinated, and not-vaccinated-and-never-will-be, the CDC chart makes it clear that the person who most definitely needs to be wearing a mask is the person who most likely isn’t. I feel better already.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.
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