Before you completely ditch social distancing and face mask wearing, take a look at what’s happening in La La Land.
Los Angeles County in California has been experiencing a rise in Covid-19 cases. On Monday, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health confirmed 259 new Covid-19 cases and 3 new Covid-19-related deaths. This has, in turn, prompted the Department to change its guidance on face mask wearing. According to a June 28 announcement, the Department now “strongly recommends everyone, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks indoors in public places as a precautionary measure.”
That’s everyone, as in every human, regardless of vaccination status. So, if you don’t have a prominent tail or leaves growing out of your body, you should be wearing a face mask when indoors in public places. Technically, the announcement said that you should “wear masks indoors in settings such as grocery or retail stores; theaters and family entertainment centers, and workplaces when you don’t know everyone’s vaccination status.” But this essentially means all such indoor settings. After all, the “honor system” in the U.S. has been working about as well as a ferret operating a nuclear reactor. If you haven’t figured it out already or read some dating site profiles lately, people may lie about all sorts of things, including their vaccination status. In fact, some people lie as if freaking space lasers were igniting their pants.
Here’s a tweet from the Department with the announcement:
Why are Covid-19 cases on the rise in Los Angeles County? Gee, could premature relaxation have anything to do with it? That is premature relaxation of social distancing measures and face mask use? As various States and municipalities have been rolling back precautions (California essentially got rid of face mask requirements on June 15), many people seem to be behaving like the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic has gone the way of the TV series Game of Thrones and reached its end.
They appear to be waving jazz hands at Covid-19 precautions, despite the continuing spread of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV2) and the fact that lots of people remain unvaccinated. There is still a ways to go before enough people are vaccinated to reach herd immunity thresholds to break the chain of transmission. Therefore, premature relaxation may not lead to a happy ending and instead allow the virus to gain even more of a foothold, or spikehold, again.
The other issue is the Delta variant. Since the first version of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV2) emerged to begin the pandemic, subsequent variants have been like the Sharknado movie and its sequels, getting progressively worse and worse. As I described yesterday for Forbes, the Delta variant seems to be 40% to 60% more transmissible than the Alpha variant, which was already more transmissible than the original version of the virus. The Delta variant may be more likely to make people more sick as well.
Since the Delta variant is more contagious, it can spread faster and further than the other versions of the virus. Indeed, according to the Department, half of all Covid-19 coronavirus variants sequenced in Los Angeles County in the week ending June 12 were Delta variants. As Pete Campbell said in the TV show Madmen, that’s “not great, Bob!”
Of course, you may say, “but I am fully vaccinated. Why do I have to worry?” Well, if you actually believe this, do the following. Put down your smartphone. Place your hand on the table. Open up your hand. Turn your palm upwards. And slap yourself in the face.
As I’ve said over and over again, while the Covid-19 vaccines can offer very good protection, they are not like gigantic concrete full body condoms. They don’t make you invincible like Paul Bunyan. Being fully vaccinated doesn’t allow you to throw caution to the wind like you would a fart. The protection provided by the vaccines is very good but not 100%, even against the original and Alpha versions of the virus. Yes, the vaccines will protect you against the Delta variant but as I wrote on Sunday for Forbes, that protection may be even a little lower. Two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna Covid-19 mRNA vaccines seem to offer close to 90% effective protection against symptomatic Covid-19, and one dose of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine appears to offer around 60% protection.
The bottom line is that even if you are fully vaccinated, you can still catch the Covid-19 coronavirus. That’s why maintaining other precautions such as wearing face masks will be important while the pandemic continues.
Of course, with all the premature relaxation going on, it may have been a while since you last wore a face mask. You may be saying, “what is this face mask thing, and how do I wear it?” Just in case you’ve forgotten, the announcement from the Department included a reminder as well to wear face masks properly. Note that Batman and Lone Ranger masks don’t count. Neither will this kind of face mask:
Your face mask shouldn’t look like a chin strap either. It’s gotta completely cover your nose and mouth. It should fit snugly around your nose and mouth too like a toupee would on a politician’s head. In fact, for those not fully vaccinated, the Department says “consider wearing a respirator for additional protection.”
What’s happening in Los Angeles is not a complete surprise. Back in May, I wrote a piece for Forbes, entitled “Is It Too Early To Say Fully Vaccinated Don’t Need Face Masks, Social Distancing? Here Are 5 Covid-19 Concerns.” In it, I wondered whether everyone was moving too quickly to relax precautions rather taking a more gradual progressive approach. Municipalities could have tied progressively relaxing different precautions to reaching various milestones such as different levels of vaccination coverage. One example is how Israel only relaxed outdoors face mask mandates after over 50% of the total population was fully vaccinated, as I described previously for Forbes.
Rather than setting such milestones, many municipalities have been setting arbitrary deadlines to essentially relax all precautions and “return to normal.” But does this really make any sense? Do you set arbitrary deadlines to achieve major lifetime goals such as getting married, having a baby, or assembling enough marmots to form a marmot orchestra? No, often the timing for major actions depends on what’s happening around you and when the right conditions may emerge.
It’s always easier to prevent a virus from spreading than to contain it once it is widespread. It’s also more difficult to get people to re-adopt healthy behaviors once they have stopped doing them. That’s why you should gradually relax precautions based on what the prevailing conditions seem to be. The spread of the Delta variant has suggested that things in Los Angeles may have been a bit too LAX.