Due to the implementation of vaccines, the threat of the virus is gradually being reduced. However, does this mean that we can return to pre-pandemic conditions very soon?
by Sriya Gundlapally
The pandemic has existed in our society since the beginning of 2020, and as we progress further into 2021, it has continued to affect our daily lives. The number of deaths and the speed of infection worldwide have put multiple countries under pressure. However, throughout the entire experience, there have been many negative aspects, causing many people to lack stability in their mental health whether it be due to the drastic lifestyle changes, the instability, or the uncertainty.
These experiences have varied among countries as well. In the United States, there have been the highest numbers of COVID-19 cases, with Brazil trailing directly behind. Due to the differences in the number of cases, various procedures have been implemented. Most places, such as India and the United States, have issued mandates for masks and social distancing. However, on the bright side, with a bit of time, the Pfizer vaccine was developed. As of March 6th, 2021, less than 1% of the world’s population has been fully vaccinated, with approximately 17% of the U.S population being vaccinated with one dose.
With time, the percentage of the world population that is vaccinated will increase, however, the question is whether we should loosen the restrictions due to the decreased mortality rate (after the implementation of the vaccine), continue with the strict enforcement of them, or perhaps, look for a neutral perspective.
Many scientists and epidemiologists are major supporters of keeping the COVID regulations for the foreseeable future. Through the use of research and studies on the trends of the Coronavirus, scientists do believe that the spread of the virus is still a large threat that can be curbed with mandatory mask-wearing and social distancing. Dr. Fauci, one of America’s top immunology experts, also agrees that wearing masks should still be mandated in public places, including schools and businesses. Additionally, Fauci informs the public that COVID cases must reach a “low enough baseline” so the risk for spikes in cases decreases.
Dr. Hanage from the Harvard University T.H Chan School of Public Health further affirms that including “more contacts” between people would increase the chances of rapid infection. He refers specifically to Massachusetts, however, the same issue is equally as likely in other states that lift restrictions. Without strict restrictions, there could be possible surges in COVID cases, leading to more deaths.
Along with more risk possibilities, new variants of the virus are also projected to grow as an effect of lifting restrictions. The CDC plays an important role in protecting people from the virus and the guidelines set for masks and social distancing from last year have been effective. Therefore, people in the public are encouraged to wear masks and keep themselves and others safe. If restrictions are loosened before the pandemic has given way, public safety may be threatened as our society will grow to normalize social gatherings again.
Social distancing and mandating mask-wearing have caused many people personal discomfort with some accusing the government’s mandatory enforcement of these restrictions as a breach of human rights. This issue was especially prominent earlier in the pandemic as the restrictions enforced may have overwhelmed many without bringing enough awareness. Additionally, many citizens believe that there is also “no clear evidence” for surgical masks being effective, which, therefore, amounts all the discomfort from wearing masks to nothing.
Additionally, this would introduce the Peltzman effect which, in this context, refers to the careless thought that wearing a mask protects them enough, to the extent of rendering other guidelines as optional, such as hand washing. Masks also have many cons, to the point of, in some cases, rendering it useless: touching of the face and incorrect wearing of the mask.
Additionally, environmental issues are another unique side to the issue. Many people may not know how to correctly dispose of masks after use, and this either leads to the spread of germs or pollution. Last year, in Hong Kong, 100 littered masks were found in just “100 meters of shoreline,” according to Steve Fletcher, a professor of Ocean Policy at the University of Portsmouth. His research has revealed that the masks have polluted oceans too, furthering the issue of wildlife destruction and ocean pollution. Lifting mask regulations is one solution to stopping further damage.
Many people have become accustomed to wearing a mask to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus and other variants of it. However, the discomfort due to masks, environmental damage, and the inability to open up businesses allow a sensible argument to develop in opposition to the preservation of regulations.
A neutral position in this strongly polarized argument may include removing mask regulations but keeping social distancing. However, this is not as possible as it seems since more people will go to larger social gatherings, and without masks, social distancing may not have its full effect.
Another possibility is for the mask regulations to stay in place, along with social distancing, but, in addition, the spread of more awareness about the issue of misinformation about COVID.
People are in disagreement about whether or not masks are still necessary, and either side has compelling arguments. The government has a major role, but if there is no understanding on the individual level, there is not much that can be done. Staying informed will allow people to make decisions and prioritize certain things precisely.