Ask Detour: To mask or not to mask in Michigan

Ask Detour: To mask or not to mask in Michigan

Why now? What do health experts think? Should I really take it off?

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Does the idea of going out in public sans mask have you feeling… a little naked? Is it more like leaving the house without your keys, or forgetting to put on underwear? Yeah, it’s a little weird. After the CDC dropped its bombshell guidance last week saying vaccinated folks can forgo the face covering and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced similar changes to state restrictions, we’re left feeling a little off balance. We have questions, you have questions. We looked for some answers. 

Got another question, want to vent about masks in general, or share what you’re seeing in your neighborhood bar/grocery store/gym? Let us know: nina@detourdetroiter.com.

What’s up with mask mandates?

According to the Centers for Disease Control, fully vaccinated people can stop wearing a mask and social distancing in any setting (unless required by other laws or regulations, including those set by businesses). Fully vaccinated people can also forgo testing if they’ve been exposed. CDC advises still wearing a mask in all health care settings.

Why now?

The CDC’s guidance comes at a time when vaccination rates are plateauing in the country and vaccine eligibility is expanded to younger age groups — and while hope for U.S. herd immunity fades. The guidance seems to be one way of encouraging those on the fence to get the shot. “This is going to provide a pretty strong incentive for a lot of people who might’ve been on the fence about getting vaccinated to go out and get vaccinated,” said former U.S. Food and Drug Administration Scott Gottlieb.

What does it mean in Michigan?

Michigan issued new guidance on masks to align with the CDC last week that went into effect Saturday. Now, Michigan residents who are fully vaccinated no longer need to wear a mask indoors, while those who have not been vaccinated must continue to wear one. Everyone, regardless of vaccine status, can forgo masks outdoors. The state also issued orders governing sports and large outdoor events. All mask mandates are set to expire July 1, even though the state’s “Vacc to Normal” campaign aims to drop mask restrictions when the state’s vaccination rate reaches 70%. The latest guidance maintains certain restrictions on gathering sizes and occupancy rates for businesses, entertainment venues, restaurants and other facilities. 

What’s happening in other states? 

As with all other aspects of the pandemic, it’s a mixed bag. California won’t lift its mask mandate until June 17. New York dropped its mandate Monday. Texas dropped its mandate back in March. You can see what’s happening state-by-state here.

What do health experts think?

Experts are divided. “I think that’s good that they are differentiating between vaccinated and not vaccinated and showing the benefit of vaccination,” ER doc Dr. Leana Wen told CNN. “People will remember one thing — I don’t need to wear a mask and that’s my biggest concern. And it’s confusing,” said epidemiologist Ali Mokdad. The National Nurses Union condemned the CDC’s move. NNU Executive Director Bonnie Castillo, RN, said the change “threatens the lives of patients, nurses and other frontline workers across the country.”

What are business owners saying?

The reaction among business owners has ranged from “wait and see” to immediate adoption. Over the weekend, a number of metro Detroit restaurants including Good Cakes and Bakes and Eastern Market Brewing Company told patrons to stay masked up. As for enforcement, businesses are required to make a good faith effort by putting up signs to say unvaccinated people must wear masks, asking customers if they are vaccinated or continue to require everybody to wear masks.

I’m fully vaccinated! What should I do? 

You should do what you feel comfortable doing. It’s likely going to take us all awhile to embrace “normalcy.” Some people may be ready to dive in, others may want to keep wearing masks for awhile.

I’m not vaccinated yet. What does this mean for me?

The guidance is built on the premise that vaccinated people do not transmit the virus, so theoretically, your risk is not increased. But a lot of this is built on trust that those not wearing a mask are actually fully vaccinated. So you’re likely to be making your own calculation about what activities to participate in while masked based on trust and your perceived exposure risk.

I feel more comfortable wearing a mask in certain situations. Can I just keep wearing one?

There’s no law against wearing masks. Some are saying they’ll continue wearing them indefinitely.

What comes next?

We shall see. Public health experts will continue to monitor cases — should another surge happen, mandates could return. Cases are dropping in Michigan, but the virus is following the same seasonal trajectory as last year. Will cases spike again in the fall? No one knows for sure. One thing everyone hopes is that mask mandates going away will prompt more to get vaccinated. 

But what about…

The new masking recommendations are a significant change to how many of us think about safety and socializing. It’s weird! If you’re still confused, let us know how to help. 

Nina Misuraca Ignaczak is a contributing editor for Detour Detroit. She is the founder and executive editor of Planet Detroit, a digital media startup that tells Detroit’s environmental stories while building a community of engaged readers who are informed and empowered to act personally and publicly. She is an award-winning freelance journalist who writes, edits and produces stories about the environment, place and identity. Her recent work has been published by Detour Detroit, Belt Magazine, HuffPost, Detroit Free Press, WDET, Crains Detroit Business, Business Insider, Curbed Detroit and Model D. Prior to her career in journalism, she worked in urban planning in the local government and nonprofit sectors. She has a Master of Science in Natural Resource Ecology and a Bachelor of Science in Biology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Twitter: @ninaignaczak