Why Some Public Health Experts Will Continue Wearing Masks After June 15
Speaker 1: 00:00 Some of the confusion about the new mask requirements is over both the state of California and San Diego county have designated June 15th as the date fully vaccinated. Californians can go without a mask in most indoor settings. By that time it's expected that more than half of San Diego's eligible population will be fully vaccinated, but not everyone agrees that the vaccination numbers or demographics are where they need to be to keep everyone safe. Three public health experts, right in voice of San Diego that lifting the mass requirement at this time could result in further risk of infection for the most vulnerable among us. Joining me is one of the authors of that opinion, Rebecca fielding Miller, a UCF epidemiologist and assistant professor at UC San Diego school of medicine's division of infectious diseases and global public health. Rebecca, welcome back to the Speaker 2: 00:56 Hi there. Thanks for having me back again. Now Speaker 1: 00:59 Say that theoretically, you have no argument with fully vaccinated people being able to go without masks, but you say it's not that simple in the real world. What situations don't these new guidelines take into account? Speaker 2: 01:14 Yeah, that's, that's absolutely correct. And I think it's important to be clear that for people who are fully vaccinated, who are two weeks past their second shot, if they got Madonna or Pfizer or their one and done shot, if they got Johnson and Johnson, there is a very, very low risk of catching the virus and of passing it on to somebody else. The problem is when we look at who has and has not been vaccinated in San Diego county, there's some real differences by age and by demographics, especially race and ethnicity. And so when these new guidelines basically boil down to an honor code and we, we want people to, you know, be honest about their vaccination status in public, but we have no way of knowing. And we know that certain behaviors cluster together, people who are most likely to think that they don't need to get vaccinated, that it's not important. Those are the same folks who are going to think that it's not important to wear a mask. And also that it's not important to socially distance. And so we're likely to see these networks of outbreaks among people who think that these, um, precautions aren't necessary. And then it's also potentially more likely for that infection to spread to groups of people who haven't had the opportunity to get vaccinated yet. Now there is a, I hope Speaker 1: 02:33 That the, sort of the bonus of being able to take your mask off will inspire more people to get vaccinated. Do you think that's the case? Speaker 2: 02:41 You know, I, I can never rule it out. I'm sure there are a couple of people who maybe if they were teetering, um, this would push them over. But I think if you know the opportunity to not get COVID-19 and spread it to the people around you, hasn't big enough been a big enough incentive if, um, stickers and donuts, haven't been a big enough incentive then this, um, I don't see the opportunity to take your mask off as a real incentive, especially if there's not going to be a check, if you can just take it off anyway, and nobody will ever know Speaker 1: 03:13 While OSHA is considering relaxing masks and social distancing requirements for fully vaccinated workers. So do you think that's also opening the door to more problems? Speaker 2: 03:24 I worry about workers in particular, you know, a good friend of mine manages a CVS and it's not his job to have to arbitrate if somebody is vaccinated or not. If somebody comes in without a mask into his place of business, it's unclear how providers employers would enforce vaccination status. We don't have a universal vaccine registry to check that against. And I worry that once again, people who are sort of at the highest risk are going to face the most harm from this, Speaker 1: 03:56 The overall percentages of people who've gotten vaccinated is looking pretty good. But tell us more about what you say those numbers. Don't tell us that that is the whole story about communities that are being left behind. Speaker 2: 04:09 Yeah, so San Diego county and the state of California really have done an amazing job. When we look at the numbers, I think as of today, about 65% of eligible San Diegans have gotten at least one shot. So I, I do think it's reasonable that we will get to that 70% mark pretty soon. But if we look at the data and we look at how different groups by race ethnicity have gotten vaccinated, we can see that only 31% of African-American San Diego, 12 and over have gotten vaccinated compared to 52% of white San Diego residents. Um, we can see there's a really big gap between, um, vaccine uptake in folks who identify as native American. And so even though in the aggregate, these numbers are small. I think only about 3% of the population is African-American in San Diego. Those 3% of people are still important. And we want to make sure that we're not leaving anybody behind as we move forward as a society. So Speaker 1: 05:10 Even though we see good numbers of fully vaccinated people, if unvaccinated people also decide to take off their masks, what kinds of risks are we doing? Looking Speaker 2: 05:20 At? One of the biggest concerns is we know that there's a lot of these variants they're called variants of concern. So this one that we saw first in the UK, B one, one seven, that now makes up about 60% of cases in San Diego. This variant that we're seeing associated with outbreaks in India, um, uh, the variant we've seen first identified in South Africa, and we know that some of these are a little bit better at evading the antibodies that the vaccine makes. And so the more opportunities the virus has to replicate, the more opportunities that has to replicate it in a way that can help innovate the vaccines. And so if there are of people spending time together, um, who are unvaccinated, who are, um, sort of, uh, helping the virus replicate with in themselves that provides more opportunity for these variants to come about that could potentially escape the vaccine for everybody. And put us back at the beginning. Again, you Speaker 1: 06:16 Wrote this piece in voice of San Diego with two other public health colleagues. Do you all intend to keep your masks on in indoor settings after June 15th? Speaker 2: 06:27 I certainly do. Yeah. In public and for a couple of reasons, one, you know, I've gotten my vaccine. Um, my husband has gotten his vaccine, but I have a three-year-old. Um, and she is not fully vaccinated. She's three. She goes to childcare. Um, the children she spends time with are not fully vaccinated. And while it's a very, very, very small chance, there is still a chance that, um, I could catch the virus and I could potentially pass it onto her, um, or to the kids in her daycare. And I want nothing to do with that. Um, and also, like I said, it's not retail staff or a Barry says job to know if I'm vaccinated or not. And if you know me having to wear a mask for an extra five minutes helps somebody else feel a little bit less afraid about their own vulnerability or the vulnerability of somebody they care about. Then that's a really easy choice to make for me. I've Speaker 1: 07:22 Been speaking with UCF epidemiologist, Rebecca fielding Miller, Rebecca. Thank you so much. Yeah. Thank you. Speaker 3: 07:38 [inaudible].