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Frank Bures: Attempting to unmask current mask/mass confusion

Frank Bures: Attempting to unmask current mask/mass confusion

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Since last Thursday, May 13, when the CDC released new mask wearing guidance for fully vaccinated persons, there has been mass and mask confusion, laced liberally with personal opinion. The head of the CDC, Rochelle Walensky, announced “new guidance” for folks who have both their mRNA vaccine shots or the Johnson and Johnson one-shot variety, beginning 2 weeks after getting “shot up.”

“Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities, large or small, without wearing a mask or physical distancing. We have all longed for this moment.” The decision to change advice was “based on the continuing downward trajectory of cases, the scientific data on the performance of our vaccines, and our understanding of how the virus spreads. That moment has come for those who are fully vaccinated.”

The exceptions occur in crowded indoor spaces, such as buses, trains, planes, hospitals, homeless shelters, and prisons. I would assume that many congregate care facilities like some nursing homes would also not allow you to be barefaced. It’s an individual facility’s decision.

The data that are the basis for the change lie in a real world review of Israeli health records, which found the Pfizer vaccine prevented 97% of symptomatic infections. Another study of 5,000 healthcare workers found the same vaccine was effective against asymptomatic infection in 86%. One of two other studies published in an authoritative publication, the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Review from the CDC found vaccines were 90% effective against “any (COVID) infection” in almost 4,000 healthcare workers, and another found the vaccines to be 94% effective against hospitalization in older adults.

People read into what they are told the meaning they want get out of it. I have learned that from years of diligently giving patients the best advice I can, and hearing them respond back with what they “heard.” The new guidance has been heard by many unvaccinated as license to discard their masks. Au contraire, mon frère. The virus is still circulating in the community, and the unvaccinated are still being exposed to it with all the attendant possible severe illness and death we have sadly come to know the last 15 months. I doubt ANYONE wants to keep wearing a mask. The 3-4% of Americans whose immune systems are compromised, like cancer and organ transplant patients, cannot join the maskless life because they seem to generate very few measurable antibodies from the vaccines.

Since May 13 I have collected over 20 Internet medical and news references about the ruling and over 5 from newsprint. The doctors and nurses who tried to care for and keep alive the tidal wave of hospitalized patients, so many of whom died in spite of heroic efforts, are expressing concern that this could be premature. Many are and will suffer PTSD from their valiant struggles against the merciless virus, like those close family members left behind. We all have been imprinted with the fear of death if we don’t maintain masked, distanced lives. Dr. Walensky says we are going to have something like mask separation anxiety for a while, finding it difficult to shed the mask totally. She said we should be able to do that in our own due time. Could you call it mask PTSD?

Articles from a May 6 southwestern Ohio TV station reported some interesting pro-vaccine data. It found that of the 170 COVID patients in their area hospitals NONE were vaccinated. Reporting this week showed 9 fully vaccinated members of the New York Yankees of a group of 50-60 traveling together tested positive for COVID after being in tight quarters during a rain delay. Only one showed only mild symptoms. Rather than indicate vaccine failure, this demonstrated success in preventing and eliminating severe disease and death. Those with “breakthrough” infections (infection after being fully vaccinated) develop far fewer viruses, and don’t shed them to spread to others. The vaccines’ immunity seems to hold up both in lab and life against so many of the variants popping up around the world, including India.

Mask mandates have been dropped officially in Minnesota. But individual locales and businesses are permitted to continue theirs if they feel the need, like both Minneapolis and St. Paul for now. The patchwork of rules for masking/not masking will cause true mass/mask confusion for quite a while. An additional blow to masking clarity is different political entities forbidding mask mandates in different areas of the country.

For now, we’ll have to muddle through this befuddling, bewildering maze with mask in pocket or on puss. If vaccination is the key to unmasking, President Biden summarized it best May 13: “After a year of hard work and so much sacrifice, the rule is now simple: get vaccinated, or wear a mask until you do.”

Another mass confusion I read of long ago concerned the measurement of mass with pounds or kilograms. It said changing from lbs. to kilos in the U.S. would lead to real mass confusion. The current mask mass confusion is enough for now.

Dr. Bures, a semi-retired dermatologist, since 1978 has worked Winona, La Crosse, Viroqua, and Red Wing. He also plays clarinet in the Winona Municipal Band and a couple dixieland groups. And he does enjoy a good pun.


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