Knowing how to protect yourself and others in the time of COVID-19 has been, from the beginning, a matter of following the experts’ best guess, and that hasn’t changed after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention surprised us by lifting the mask rules in most settings.
That isn’t to say that scientists don’t know what they are talking about, and we wouldn’t characterize the latest suggestions as a “reversal” of previous guidance. It seems no one has called it such in a while, but this started out as a novel coronavirus for a reason. No one had any experience dealing with this particular menace. Our best virologists had a baseline of good advice that evolved over time because that is the way science works.
In the beginning, more than a year ago, it seemed the most immediate threat came from surfaces — everything from desktops at the workplace to cartons of milk in the grocery store. We weren’t initially told to wear masks, partly because hospitals and first responders needed them desperately, but also because we didn’t think this virus spread that way. Over time, we learned it spread primarily through the very air we breathe rather than via surface transmission.
That guidance was fine-tuned through the long months of 2020. We were asked to mask up and learned the difference between surgical masks, N95 masks, cloth masks and a gaiter, which turned out to be something you could wear around your neck and pull over your nose and not a prehistoric amphibian. We learned to keep our distance and that the proper distance was a bit of a moving target depending on the circumstances. We learned that cavorting outdoors was much safer than the same activity indoors. We quarantined when we had to, formed pods when we could, and we adjusted continually.
The need for flexibility hasn’t changed with the newest CDC recommendations. Some businesses have announced an abrupt end to their mask requirements while others respectfully ask that you cover up before entering. In the weeks ahead, we expect the state of California to throw out the color-coded tier system and to allow more people into restaurants, gyms, movie theaters and everywhere else.
This isn’t some repudiation of the restrictions in place since March 2020. Despite what you hear on some quarters of the internet, the experts weren’t wrong over these long months when they repeatedly changed their recommendations. They were merely responding to new information. Because, again, it’s science.
We have entered a particularly confusing, though thankfully less dangerous, phase of this pandemic. As more of us vaccinate — and as the threat diminishes as a result — more of us will want to throw months of caution to the wind. Others aren’t ready for that and with good reason. The virus is out there. Even those who have been vaccinated can catch it. It is still dangerous to many. For now, the prudent course of action is to remain cautious. Keep your distance in a crowd. Wear a mask when appropriate. Continue to wash your hands.
We’re so close. Keep up the good work.
— Clay Lambert