Opinion | 3 Questions That Must Be Answered for Mask Mandates to Work
For example, Florida, which last week accounted for more than 20% of reported Covid-19 cases in the United States, has reduced the number of reported cases to once a week and no longer shares test data or deaths broken down by county. The CDC has a map that shows a summary of Covid-19 data for the nation, but it is less detailed than what states have typically reported.
At this point in the pandemic, state and local governments should submit more data, not less. At a minimum, they should publish the frequency and demographic distribution of cases, tests, hospitalizations and deaths, as well as vaccinations. And they should do it daily.
County level data is useful, but postal code or census tract level data is even better. Los Angeles County, for example, was able to immunize more than 70% of eligible adults, but that statistic masks the fact that parts of the county have much lower immunization coverage. Highly localized data will help people more clearly understand the specific risks where they live and work and the need for mask recommendations.
At the same time, health officials should continue to provide data showing the benefits of vaccines. Without it, experts could inadvertently send the signal that masks are a suitable alternative for getting vaccinated. The distribution of cases and hospitalizations by vaccination status must be regularly notified. It will also help experts monitor how well vaccines continue to prevent serious illness.
When can masks be removed?
Local experts should provide people with the metrics they use – like infections or vaccinations – to decide when masks are no longer needed. It underscores why masks are making a comeback in the first place and gives hope to those who don’t like wearing them.
Since vaccines provide long-lasting protection against serious illness, linking masking requirements to reasonable vaccine coverage goals and acceptable hospitalization levels will provide a clearer picture of progress than the number of cases, which can fluctuate.
Everyone is tired of the pandemic. Vaccines offer a way out, but the United States has not convinced Americans enough of it. The nation cannot simply go back to general tactics employed in previous pushes and expect them to conform. It should be made clear to the public how measures such as mask warrants will reduce transmission and can be used to incentivize vaccination.
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