It was good news, but like so much else during the pandemic, the CDC’s announcement last week about fully vaccinated people doffing face masks and eschewing social distancing in most situations, indoors and outdoors, was also tinged with trouble.
The proclamation was if anything late in arriving.
After all, people who were fully vaccinated in, say, January were as thoroughly protected from COVID-19 then as those who were inoculated this month are today.
Nonetheless, the announcement by CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky was a welcome reminder that people who are fully vaccinated get something much more important than a card and perhaps a sticker.
But this confirmation about the physical (and, indeed, emotional) benefits of vaccination from the highest level of the medical community was hardly a simple, happy milestone in states such as Oregon where mask requirements remain common.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and other state officials lauded the CDC announcement, to be sure.
But apparently it hadn’t occurred to them that such a public statement was forthcoming, no matter that, thanks in considerable measure to growing vaccination rates, nationwide COVID-19 statistics, most notably the death rate, have been improving greatly.
Regardless, Oregon officials couldn’t offer substantive advice to business owners about how to adjust to the CDC guidelines. Brown said the Oregon Health Authority would give new guidance soon. But that leaves business owners, many of whom have suffered greatly over the past 14 months, in yet another regulatory purgatory.
On Friday, May 14, Dr. Dean Sidelinger, the state epidemiologist, said businesses that allow customers to go without masks probably will be required to inspect customers’ vaccination cards to ensure they are fully vaccinated.
This places an intolerable burden on business owners and their employees. Many have already had to endure tirades, and from both sides of the unfortunate “debate” over masks — from customers who consider mask mandates onerous and ineffective, and from those who berate businesses for failing to ensure that not so much as a square inch of inappropriate facial area is bared.
It’s time for Oregon to allow businesses to set their own policies regarding masks, rather than continue to force them to risk losing customers over rules that were imposed upon the businesses.
That said, shoppers should respect the decisions that business owners make, and understand that some will continue to require masks.
That will annoy some customers. But should your personal disdain for wearing a mask for a brief period prevent you from patronizing a business whose products and services you enjoy?
The cliché “we’re all in this together” has enjoyed an unfortunate resurgence during the pandemic — unfortunate because it’s such a misleading description of the situation. The reality, of course, is that COVID-19 has cracked open to yawning dimensions the divisions among us rather than pasted over them.
But when it comes to supporting businesses in a relatively small, relatively isolated community such as Baker County, we ought to be capable of setting aside something as trifling as a strip of cloth worn over the mouth and nose.
This pandemic will end; indeed, it clearly is on the wane. And when society returns to something we can all recognize as normal, we will want to be able to buy the items we’ve been accustomed to acquiring.
If wearing a mask for a few minutes in some of those businesses is the price to help that business survive these unprecedented times, then we should count that as a bargain and be happy to have it.
— Jayson Jacoby, Baker City Herald editor