August 2, 2021

Op-Ed: Connecticut May Have ‘Reopened,’ Be ‘Returning to Normal’– But Don’t Criticize the ‘Still-Masked’

In May, Connecticut’s COVID-19 protocols for masks and face coverings were relaxed to coincide with newly-modified Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations, and the new, less stringent, rules then became effective statewide. 

Masks are not required for anyone outdoors, and the “vaccinated” are not required to wear masks indoors. Conversely, the “unvaccinated” must still wear them indoors.

Masks, however, may still be required in many settings, including healthcare facilities, public transit, and facilities that house vulnerable populations. Businesses and government offices have the option to require that masks be worn.

You can review these new rules in detail at: https://portal.ct.gov/Coronavirus/Covid-19-Knowledge-Base/Latest-COVID-19-Guidance

Despite all that, there are good reasons why some of the “fully vaccinated” may not embrace this “return to normalcy”. You will recognize them both by the masks that they may still wear, and their adherence to the old social distancing guidelines.

Is this excessive caution, or just an abundance of caution? 

“Who was that masked man?’ (The Lone Ranger; 1949-1957)

Unfortunately, people with autoimmune diseases (e.g., Type 1 diabetes, lupus, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis), and organ transplant recipients, who take immunosuppressant drugs, may manifest a significantly reduced antibody response to the COVID vaccines. The National Institutes of Health estimates that nearly 23.5 million Americans (about seven percent of the population) suffer from an autoimmune disease; and the prevalence of those diseases is rising. 

Connecticut has heart and kidney transplantation centers at both Yale New Haven and Hartford Hospitals. Each year, about 2,000 heart transplants are delivered in the United States; and the number of kidney transplants has increased annually since 2015, reaching nearly 25,000 in 2019. Yale New Haven Hospital is the largest kidney transplantation center in New England.

Further, while more than 174 million Americans have received at least one vaccine dose — about 65 percent of the adult population — there are still significant gaps at the local level. To illustrate that point, CDC data indicate that less than 30 percent of the population is fully vaccinated in nearly 1000 counties, many of which are rural and economically disadvantaged and concentrated in the Southeast and Midwest. The data also demonstrate a common political link to those shunning vaccination. 

In contrast, 60 percent of the Connecticut population has been fully vaccinated, and two-thirds of residents have received at least one dose.

Note that a single dose of a two-dose vaccine will provide some protection, but not nearly at the level achieved after the second dose. Of course, medical and public health professionals recommend getting fully vaccinated, especially now, with the continued emergence of troubling mutations.

And so, as much of the country emerges from masking and social distancing, under-vaccinated pockets in the U.S. still threaten to bring the virus roaring back; and, last Thursday, CDC Director Walensky announced that the number of COVID-19 cases in the United States has increased 10 percent, certainly fueled by the hyper-transmissible (i.e., highly contagious) delta variant spreading among the unvaccinated.

Although recent data indicate that our current vaccines are still effective at preventing severe COVID-19 caused by the delta variant that would require hospitalization, there is a concern that the vaccines might lose their effectiveness if new variants continue to evolve and spread in the unvaccinated.  

We need to get all Americans vaccinated. This is neither new information, nor partisan politics. I am not suggesting that everybody masks-up again. I do, however, want you to be aware and remain safe.

As you might have guessed, I am one of those “fully vaccinated,” who still wears a mask in a very crowded areas, and washes my hands frequently. 

Blanche Dubois, in the Tennessee Williams play, A Streetcar Named Desire, may have actually had the right vaccination message: “Whoever you are, I have often relied on the kindness of strangers.”

Editor’s Note: Thomas D. Gotowka, who wrote this op-ed and lives in Old Lyme, writes a regular column for LymeLine.com titled, ‘A View From My Porch.’ His entire adult career has been in healthcare.

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