Six months ago, Dr Sarah Fortune could see the end of the pandemic.
On Wednesday morning, Fortune, chair of the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, woke up with an “existential fear” about the future of Covid-19.
This is despite new guidelines released Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which suggest that everyone, vaccinated or not, wear masks indoors in places where Covid-19 is spreading rapidly.
Fortune supports the new guidelines, which have been widely praised by experts like her, saying they will surely save lives.
Still, “masking is just not the solution,” she said.
The number of cases is increasing as a fourth wave of infection caused by the delta variant sweeps the country. Hospitalizations in states with low immunization rates are increasing. Suddenly, cities and counties are reinstating the indoor mask mandates they just triumphantly repealed – now with support from the CDC.
The advice announced on Tuesday sparked outrage from many Republican officials and caused frustration among those already vaccinated. For some who study infectious disease, it’s like sending a single lifeboat to a sinking ship with 50 people on board.
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt said Wednesday he would sue the city of Kansas City for his new indoor mask tenure.
“This mask mandate is about politics and control, not science,” said Schmitt, a Republican candidate for the US Senate. said on twitter. “You are not subjects but citizens of what has been the freest country in the world and I will always fight for you.”
He was joined by a chorus of prominent right-wing voices who mock the new direction.
Senator Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., Said “forcing masks undermines public confidence in vaccinesSenator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, told Fox News that the advice was’ absurd ‘and’100 percent politics, no science. “In a passion speech in the House WednesdayRep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, asked, “What are vaccines or masks? “
Their complaints come as no surprise; the masks have been deeply politicized, and the mandates have met with strong opposition from Republicans since their first imposition in the spring of 2020.
This time, however, they are not alone in their resentment.
When Raven Hecht heard about the change, she couldn’t help but feel a little frustrated.
“It was like, ‘Here we go again,’ said Hecht, 25, a radio promoter from New Jersey. Hecht has been vaccinated and has always been diligent in wearing masks. She doesn’t find it too embarrassing and always wears face masks when doing groceries like going to the pharmacy.
“I’ve been doing my part all this time,” she said. “The United States as a whole continues to undermine itself. We are so close to ending it.”
Hecht said that at the micro level, politics is a good thing but not a panacea.
“I think the only way for us to see real change at the macro level is for companies to start pushing for vaccines,” she said. And more are.
Google, Facebook and Lyft separately announced on Wednesday that they will make vaccination mandatory for all employees returning to the office. President Joe Biden is expected to announce Thursday that all federal workers must be vaccinated or undergo frequent testing. On Monday, the Department of Veterans Affairs became the first federal agency to require employees to be vaccinated.
This is a more effective policy than requiring masks, some public health experts say.
“As for telling everyone who has been vaccinated that they now have to go back to wearing a mask – I think it will be very little bang for our buck in terms of trying to reduce transmission at this time,” Dr Scott Gottlieb, a former Food and Drug Administration commissioner who sits on the Pfizer board of directors, said Wednesday in an interview with NPR.
Like so many others, Fortune of Harvard is fed up with wearing a mask at work and in public places.
Once the vaccines were available, “I was one of those people who was like, ‘Let’s take our masks off!'” Said Fortune. “At Harvard, I was like, ‘This mask mandate is crazy. We are home free.'”
Now things look different. “Not only are we not at home free; the finish line will change depending on the evolution of the virus,” she said.
Fortune fears the country has created “the perfect cooker for the worst kind of virus.” At 50 percent immunization levels in many parts of the country, there are “many opportunities for the virus to see individuals immunized, infect them, take hold and arm themselves.”
The only long-term solution is high vaccine coverage, she said. Instead – which some people already believe is a lost cause – Fortune can imagine a world where the virus is continually evolving to escape cover and there are more and more murderous waves.
In Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she lives and cases remain low, she has ditched her mask in some but not all public indoor spaces. Soon she will be in New Orleans, where the number of cases is much higher. There, she will wear her mask more often.