Workers struggle with COVID-19 mask guidance

Masked waitress taking order
Masked waitress taking order

Drazen Zigic / iStock

Across the country restaurant, retail, and grocery store workers are struggling to handle shifting mask guidance 1 week after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said fully vaccinated Americans no longer have to wear masks in most indoor settings.

In the week since the CDC’s announcement, Kroger, Amazon, Walmart, Best Buy, Macy's, Costco, Home Depot, Trader Joe’s, and Target have all said vaccinated customers can ditch masks in states without mask mandates in place, according to the Associated Press. However, workers interviewed said they do not trust patrons to be honest about vaccination status. Workers wearing masks describe being yelled at, cussed at, and berated for wearing facial coverings.

The head of the National Restaurant Association tells NPR that the association will recommend all restaurant employees continue to wear masks. The association will also be removing a suggestion from its operating guidance that patrons wear masks, and it asks restaurant workers to trust unmasked patrons have been vaccinated.

"We don't want to create a conflict situation, so we're going to be looking for people to comply based on their own admission, and we feel fairly comfortable that most people will," said Larry Lynch, senior vice president of science and industry at the National Restaurant Association on Morning Edition.

Using dating apps to increase vaccine uptake

Dating apps will now be able to show vaccination status among users, and they will offer incentives to vaccinated users. The new initiative was announced today during the White House press briefing.

During that briefing CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, said the 7-day average of new cases was 27,700 per day, down 19% from the prior 7-day average.

Averages have not been that low since Jun 18, 2020, Walensky said, also sharing she was very optimistic since this is the second week in a row with daily averages dropping below 30,000 cases.

The United States reported 30,141 new COVID-19 cases yesterday and 665 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 tracker.

The CDC COVID Data Tracker shows 351,955,515 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been delivered in the United States, 279,397,250 have been administered, and 126,605,166 Americans are fully vaccinated.

In 19 states (Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin, as well as Washington, DC), at least half of adults are fully vaccinated, CNN reports. But CDC data show the average daily pace of vaccinations is down 50% from its April peak.

Maryland, New York try vaccine lotteries

Maryland and New York are the latest states to use lotteries as way to incentivize getting vaccinated.

Maryland is partnering with the state's lottery to provide $2 million in prize money for residents who get vaccinated,  the New York Times reports, and New York will hand out free lottery scratch-off tickets that could yield prizes from $20 to a $5 million jackpot.

Beginning May 25, the Maryland lottery will award $40,000 to a vaccinated Marylander every day through July 4.

"The sooner you get your shot, the more lottery drawings you will be eligible for," Governor Larry Hogan said at a press conference. "There's no better time than now and there should be no more excuses."

Earlier this month Ohio became the first state to use the lottery to promote vaccination, announcing 5 residents would win $1 million if they have proof of at least one vaccine dose.

Studies highlight school-based strategies

Two studies today in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report suggest that COVID-19 testing helped safely maintain in-person learning and sports in Utah, and that mask use and improved ventilation resulted in lower disease incidence in Georgia elementary schools.

The first study, based in Utah, illustrates how helpful school-based testing was in maintaining in-person instruction and extracurricular activities between November of 2020 and March of 2021, according to the authors.

The Test to Play and Test to Stay strategies required students to procure COVID-19 tests after school outbreaks, or every 14 days if playing sports or doing activities. If students tested positive, they stayed at home for 10 days, and if they opted out of testing exposure, they completed remote learning for 10 days. 

Among 59,552 students who received testing, 1,886 (3.2%) had a positive result. "These programs facilitated the completion of approximately 95% of high school extracurricular competition events and saved an estimated 109,752 in-person instruction student-days," the authors said.

In a second study, the authors showed COVID-19 incidence was 37% lower in schools that required mask use by teachers and staff members, and 39% lower in schools that improved ventilation. The findings were based on data from Georgia public schools submitted to the state department of health in November and December of 2020.

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