The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention surprised many this month by releasing new guidance, saying vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks in most indoor settings.
The move has led officials in Illinois and Chicago to end mask mandates for those who have gotten their shots, and to encourage individuals to essentially use the honor system going forward.
“We don’t have a vaccine passport or something obvious that says someone is vaccinated. We certainly are asking people if they are not [vaccinated] to do the right thing and wear the mask, but we know not everybody is likely to do that,” Chicago public health director Allison Arwady said last week. “We are in this transition phase. I would just encourage people to do the right thing. And if they have concerns themselves, again, for the short-term, keep wearing that mask.”
But some local doctors say scrapping mask mandates is premature, and increases the risk of COVID-19 for essential workers, many of whom are Latino.
“It’s too soon. We need to wait a little bit longer,” said Dr. Melissa Simon, vice chair of research at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. “It’s not [a] health equity approach, which our leaders in CDC and across the country promised they would use a health equity lens, and this is not.”
Simon says more Chicagoans, especially Latinos, should be vaccinated before masks are no longer required in businesses and indoor settings.
As of Friday, 33% of Latinos in Chicago were fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to city data, compared to about 48% of white Chicagoans. 26% of Black residents in the city have been fully vaccinated.
Doctors say many Latinos want to be vaccinated, but because of various roadblocks, have yet to get their shots.
“Although all of the access points are constantly expanding, we know that there are pockets of Latinos who are still very hard to reach, and need a helping hand in a hyper local way, us helping them understand why vaccination will help us all move forward,” said Dr. Pamela Vergara-Rodriguez with the group Illinois Unidos.
Dr. Simon added that another challenge is some workplaces that employ Latinos in Chicago are not offering time off to get the shot, or to recover if a recipient experiences side effects.
And as Chicago reopens and welcomes back major summer festivals, like Lollapalooza, Vergara-Rodriguez says the decision to fully reopen isn’t taking into account the people who work at these events.
“Both businesses as well as the workers want to get back to work. But it’s not going to be worth the cost that it will be to the people if we continue to actually not take the workers into account who will be most impacted by these events,” she said. “These are the workers, the hospitality industry, the restaurant industry, the cleaners … are mainly of Black and brown communities, and those are the people who are likely going to become exposed and become ill.”