New guidance spurs concerns, pushback
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance that fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks or socially distance has been adopted by New York and other states and cheered by local officials.
But it is also raising concerns from residents, business owners and some public health officials who believe that the move is premature because so many people are still unvaccinated and may not be honest about their status.
The CDC guidelines, which went into effect in New York state on Wednesday (May 19), require unvaccinated people to wear masks in public; allows businesses to mandate that customers wear face coverings; and keeps masks in place at K-12 schools, homeless shelters, prisons, nursing homes and health care settings, and on public transit such as Metro-North.
The easing of mask rules comes as COVID-19 cases in the state and in Dutchess and Putnam counties are plummeting as more people become vaccinated.
The same day it took effect in New York, Putnam County said that its employees who are vaccinated can return to work unmasked. The county also said that its senior centers, including the Friendship Center at the Butterfield complex in Philipstown, will reopen on Monday (May 24) and that the Legislature, barring an extension of a state order that allows municipal boards to meet remotely, will resume in-person sessions when the order expires on June 9.
“It’s been a very long road, but now we’re back,” Putnam Executive MaryEllen Odell said in a statement.
But Franklin Miller, a professor of medical ethics at Weill Cornell Medical School and a fellow with The Hastings Center, a bioethics research institute based in Garrison, said the CDC guidance is based on “the unrealistic assumption that those who are not vaccinated will continue to wear masks indoors in public settings” and may encourage unvaccinated people to forgo face masks, “especially those who have been politically opposed to mask mandates.”
“This policy guidance risks endangering others who have not been vaccinated but are trying to protect themselves from becoming infected,” Miller wrote on the Hastings website on Tuesday (May 16).
From the beginning, the pandemic has brought out the best in people, and the worst. Residents delivered food to overstretched hospital workers and homebound seniors and volunteered to help health departments monitor infected people and vaccinate residents.
But alongside those heroics have been arrests of people accused of taking money for much-needed protective equipment that was never delivered and those caught lying to get vaccinated when they were not eligible. Now, a black market is operating for the paper cards given to people who receive the shots, which provides verification for entry to events and, in the fall, for students returning to SUNY and CUNY campuses.
On May 13, Nassau County police announced the arrest of a CVS employee who was allegedly found with eight pre-filled vaccination cards and 54 blank ones stolen from the store. Last month, the National Association of Attorneys General wrote a letter to the heads of eBay, Twitter and Shopify asking them to crack down on fake vaccination cards with the CDC logo. In addition, the FBI has warned the public that it is illegal to create, purchase or sell the cards.
Cadah Goulet, who owns the Poor George boutique on Main Street in Cold Spring, put up signs reading “Masks Still Required” on Tuesday in response to the new guidance, which “felt a little too fast” and “feels like a free-for-all for masks,” she said.
Businesses like Goulet’s can operate without requiring masks or social distancing if their customers present paper or digital proof that they are fully vaccinated. But Goulet said she wants “nothing to do with that” because it would require asking customers for proof. “It feels really personal” to ask, she said.
In some indoor public settings, there are separate seating areas for people who have received the shots. More than half the seating at Madison Square Garden and the Barclays Center during NBA playoff games for the Knicks and Nets will be set aside for fully vaccinated fans, Cuomo said on Monday (May 17).
The Hudson Valley Renegades announced on May 13 that the club was ending its requirement that spectators at Dutchess Stadium, where the minor league baseball team plays its home games, provide proof of vaccination or a negative test.
The team is instead recommending that masks be worn, but with capacity limited to 33 percent there is enough space for people to social distance, said General Manager Steve Gliner.
“Being outdoors is key, and I think the people who are comfortable coming out to the games are doing that,” he said.
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