By Travis Decaminada
Key Takeaway: Mask mandates are slowly being relaxed for vaccinated people, but businesses may not have a clear way of determining who is and is not vaccinated. Moreover, experts suggest that unvaccinated people may simply lie as a means of avoiding wearing a mask.
Recently, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published new health recommendations for fully vaccinated people (recommendations here, infographic covering safe and unsafe activities here), wherein the agency notes that “fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear a mask or physically distance in any setting, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance”. Masks are still recommended for unvaccinated people. So, how is a business to determine who is and is not vaccinated?
According to USA Today, society may have to rely on people to be honest, at least until a better system is put in place. Unfortunately, per the article, many people may simply lie, and more, unvaccinated people may not entirely understand the risks and reasoning associated with wearing a mask. Reportedly, these new rules also “invite deception” on the grounds that verification is difficult and the punishment negligible (if one exists). The article goes on to note that honor systems can work, but generally function better in low stakes situations like penny trays or unmanned produce stands. However, when the stakes are high, like passing an important test for example, people are reportedly much more likely to lie or cheat in some way.
Even if businesses were to require some form of proof, what would that look like?
ID Cards, Vaccine Passports
Vaccinated people are often provided with a small paper card denoting the dates of their vaccinations. This may be proof enough for some businesses; however, counterfeit vaccination cards are reportedly easy to come by online (Emerging Issues article here), which may limit their applicability.
Vaccine passports are a potential solution but may be too contentious to work on a large scale. For example, while the UK is reportedly rolling out a vaccine passport system and cell phone application (Per MIT Tech Review), some U.S. states like Alabama have already moved to make vaccine passports illegal (Per AP).
This reality has been acknowledged by some municipalities and health officials in the U.S, per NBC Chicago:
"We strongly advise businesses to verify that individuals are fully vaccinated in order to follow the new mask guidance," CDPH's* release stated. "However, we know that many businesses and other settings may not have the capacity to check people’s vaccination status. Therefore, we continue to strongly advise—though not require—masking policies for all indoor settings in Chicago until COVID-19 capacity restrictions are lifted and we enter phase five."
*Chicago Department of Public Health (CDHP).
By all appearance’s masks may be going away, at least in some places, but the risks and challenges posed by Covid-19 continue to grow and evolve.