CDC’s maskless mandate puts workers at risk

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recklessly capitulated to pressure from U.S. corporations in issuing their latest guidelines lifting masks requirements. They announced May 13: “Fully vaccinated people can resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal or territorial laws, rules and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.” 

While the percentage of adults getting vaccinated continues to rise, only 1 in 3 people in the U.S. are fully inoculated. The CDC guidelines contain no mandate stating individuals must provide proof they are fully vaccinated. This puts the lives of essential workers at serious risk. 

Since the start of the pandemic in early 2020, scientific studies have shown that  mask wearing and social distancing are the most effective ways to limit the spread of COVID-19. Removing mandatory mask wearing is bound to result in new spikes of viral infections and deaths, particularly among the poorest and most oppressed communities, whose access to vaccines has been more limited. 

The CDC’s guideline, which came as a surprise to many people working in public health, conflicts with the views of many scientists. A New York Times informal survey of 723 epidemiologists found that 80% said individuals need to wear masks in indoor public areas for at least another year, and 88% responded that even fully vaccinated people should wear masks at large outdoor gatherings.

Vivian Towe, program officer at the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute, said to the Times, “Unless the vaccination rates increase to 80% or 90% over the next few months, we should wear masks in large public indoor settings.” (May 13)

States, bosses coerce workers

Some states are beginning to cut off access to unemployment insurance benefits to force workers to return to jobs in dangerous environments lacking adequate safety measures to protect them from the virus or where they are paid subsistence wages.  Already burdened with enforcing mask mandates, frontline workers are now being put in the impossible position of determining if customers or others whom they encounter are truly vaccinated. 

Even with mask mandates implemented, there have been multiple incidents of workers being harassed and even injured while trying to enforce the protocols.  Most at risk are workers in jobs with heavy exposure to the public, in grocery and retail stores and warehouses, and those toiling in the service sector in transit, health care, postal or sanitation jobs or employed in restaurants, hotels and other hospitality businesses. Children under 12, not yet eligible for vaccines, now account for 22% of new cases.

The year-plus history of the coronavirus pandemic is rife with examples of large gatherings where unvaccinated people deliberately flout mask mandates, further fueling the spread of COVID-19. Throughout the pandemic, the right-wing, anti-mask movement has ignored protocols by appearing in public without the vital protection of masks. Many are vocally anti-vaccine.

With mask mandates in place, workers in restaurants and other businesses open to the public could restrict access for these individuals. Now the door is wide open for anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers to fill public spaces without restraint, endangering people’s lives.

People who are immunocompromised, not yet immunized, or who lack access to, or eligibility for, the vaccine will pay the consequences. This affects the many Latinx immigrants, who want to be inoculated as soon as possible but are afraid of risking their jobs, or their immigration status, if they take time off to get vaccinated.

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