The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced on May 13 that fully vaccinated people who are two weeks out from their last shot can now roam maskless in outdoor and most indoor settings. 

So, is the pandemic over? Not one bit.

Less restrictive updates to CDC guidelines are exciting — nobody wants to live in a pandemic. But it is important to continue to wear masks and practice social distancing. This way, those who don’t have or are unable to get the vaccine, as well as those constantly facing exposure, will be protected

If a food service worker can wear a mask for their eight-hour shift, you can wear it for the ten minutes it takes to get your frappuccino.  

This guidance from the CDC came as a surprise to health officials, political leaders, business owners, and nearly everyone who had been diligently donning face coverings since last year. 

Although it is important to listen to the CDC, this is not the first time it has made recommendations and quickly changed them. In early May, just weeks before this announcement, the CDC gave a different diagnosis, stating that people could remove their masks outdoors, but not in crowded spaces. 

In the midst of fast-changing advice, wearing a mask has become an accessory used to identify where you fall on the political spectrum. But unlike most social divides in this country, this issue has a straightforward solution that is in everyone’s best interest: protecting others and yourself from catching a deadly disease. 

The use of masks helps COVID-19 prevention and should be the first step a population takes in lowering positive case rates. Yes, the COVID-19 vaccines reduce the risk of severe illness by 95 percent, but that remaining 5 percent should scare you enough to use a mask. We should wear them to fill in the gaps left by the limitations of vaccines available today. 

The CDC released these new guidelines as positive cases, severe hospitalizations, and deaths have trended downward in the United States over the past few months. Vaccine availability has increased, with nearly half of the population in the United States receiving one vaccine dose and 37 percent of people fully vaccinated.

Santa Cruz County was placed in the yellow tier in early May, where there are less than two positive cases a day per 100,000 residents. About 50 percent of the county is fully vaccinated and 66 percent is at least partially vaccinated. 

Santa Cruz County has consistently steered on the side of caution when it comes to COVID-19 restrictions, however, these numbers convey the county still has work to do. In Santa Cruz County, 206 people have died in the past year because of COVID-19. The number will only climb if we don’t do our part. 

Although the data on vaccine efficiency is positive and COVID-19 related deaths have plummeted in the last few months, there won’t be a return to normalcy any time soon. In the wake of this announcement, health officials across the country are scrambling to enforce mask wearing in restaurants and schools, where COVID-19 mask mandates are still in place. With so many conflicting guidelines, people across the country have been faced with a precarious dilemma: mask or no mask? 

The answer is obvious: err on the side of caution and wear a mask.

It is hard to imagine the lives you can save by just wearing a piece of cloth over your mouth and nose, but it’s vital that we all keep trying.

CHP is publishing this story during the week of June 7 as part of a backlog on unpublished content from spring 2021. The article was originally written on May 19.