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Elected officials, public health workers, businesses, and the media in cities and states across the country were caught off guard by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s surprise announcement Thursday that fully vaccinated individuals no longer need to wear masks indoors or observe social distancing guidelines.

Count me among those who judge the announcement to be premature. In a New York Times survey of more than 700 epidemiologists published Saturday, half of respondents said 80% of all Americans, including children, will have to be vaccinated to control the spread of the virus. Currently, children under 12 are not approved for the vaccine.

It’s unclear why the CDC decided to act now to relax mask use. Last week I wrote that local efforts to fully vaccinate a significant majority of adults had stalled as vaccine hesitancy, apathy, and those misled by the anti-vaxxers disinformation campaign stand in the way of achieving herd immunity in Bexar County.

That’s a national trend. Vaccine supply, here and in many other cities, now exceeds demand. San Antonio and Bexar County are actually trending ahead of many other major cities and counties.

The City of San Antonio is working to convince more people to get vaccinated. Phase two of the “What Will It Take” campaign kicked off in April and last week featured the unveiling of the first of several murals created by local artists to encourage inner-city residents to get vaccinated. There are no murals planned for Districts 8, 9, or 10, where I would suggest City officials will find the highest concentration of residents who do not intend to get vaccinated.

The CDC’s announcement came some days after Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s ranking infectious disease expert and President Joe Biden’s chief medical officer, suggested the public should “forget” achieving herd immunity when in December he said 75% to 85% of American adults might have to be vaccinated to contain the coronavirus nationwide.

Are federal officials, in effect, accepting that the campaign to vaccinate most adults will fall short?

The fully vaccinated – about 41% of all adults in Bexar County – have no way of knowing who is not vaccinated. The CDC announcement, intended to reward the fully vaccinated with a return to life before mask use and social distancing, is a green light for unvaccinated adults to unmask and treat the pandemic as over.

The April University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll reflects a deep partisan divide defining individual behavior, with Democrats still concerned about the pandemic, with significant numbers of unvaccinated Republicans returning to pre-pandemic routines.

The United States is the most developed, wealthiest nation in the world, yet the federal government, distrusted by governors in many red states, is unable to establish a national consensus. As a result, we do not know who has been safely vaccinated and who is engaging in behaviors that put themselves and other unvaccinated individuals at risk of contracting or spreading the virus.

A physician friend shared an anecdote last week that he heard from a colleague who is an infectious disease specialist. A male patient admitted to a local hospital with serious COVID-19 symptoms told hospital staff he was fully vaccinated and still fell ill. He said he had “heard on the news” that many vaccinated people like him were falling ill with COVID-19.

After staff pressed the patient and his wife for specific details of their vaccinations, the couple admitted they were lying and said they were embarrassed to have rejected ample opportunities to get vaccinated, only to see the husband contract the virus and require hospitalization.

The facts have no political affiliation. Vaccines are safe. Vaccines give people the best possible chance of protecting their health and the health of those around them, and helping the community at large contain the spread of the virus in all its variants. A recent study by the highly regarded Cleveland Clinic showed that 99.75% of people hospitalized there with COVID-19 in 2021 were not vaccinated.

Let’s face it: Truth and science have been hit hard by the pandemic. So I will be keeping my mask up at the grocery store and in other public places, and I doubt I will be alone. I’ll unmask in the company of family, friends, and co-workers who are fully vaccinated. Out in public, where I have no way of knowing who is vaccinated and who is not, I’ll wear my mask.

Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard is editor of the San Antonio Report.