Yesterday, the CDC released more relaxed mask guidelines for outdoor activities, as well as new charts for indoor and outdoor recommendations. The more permissive guidelines were a welcome step forward, but they’re still frustrating. By issuing recommendations that are simultaneously too timid and too complicated, the CDC is repeating a mistake that’s hounded America’s pandemic response. The new guidelines are rigid and binary, and aren’t accompanied by explanations or a link to an accessible version of the underlying science, which would empower people to both understand them better and figure things out for themselves.
The new guidelines come with charts that list specific activities and how a person should engage in them, based on their vaccination status. The charts illustrate people wearing masks or not, with different colors and mask statuses for vaccinated and unvaccinated people, depending on the activity. The chart for outdoor activities suggests that masks are not necessary for walks or runs, for example, if people are by themselves or with their household, regardless of vaccination status. However, unvaccinated people are advised to wear a mask at “small” outdoor gatherings that include other unvaccinated people, but the people are still marked “safest.” Colors change, too: Yellow is used for the unvaccinated dining outdoors with multiple households, marked as “less safe,” though the earlier “small, outdoor gathering” does not clarify household status. Crowds have everyone masked, but the colors are different: red for the unvaccinated, green for the vaccinated, who are wearing masks but marked “safest.”
Confused? You’re not alone. The guidelines got Linsey Marr, a professor at Virginia Tech and a leading expert on viral transmission, to remark that even she can’t remember all of this. “I would have to carry around a sheet of paper—a cheat sheet with all these different stipulations,” she said in an interview after the announcement. [Continue reading…]