Scout’s honor may not be enough to make sure new COVID mask guidance will work

New CDC guidelines mean fully-vaccinated people don't have to wear masks, in many circumstances -- but they don't have to provide proof at businesses, such as at Publix or other stores. Credit: Diane Rado

I walked into a Tallahassee Publix this weekend while hurrying to put on a face mask.

Then I remembered that maybe I didn’t need to put on a mask – though COVID-19 is still infecting and killing people — following new CDC guidance on ditching masks in many circumstances if people are fully vaccinated.

The Publix grocery chain on Friday (May 14) had already issued a brief news release saying:

“As a result of the recently updated U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance, Publix will no longer require fully vaccinated associates or customers to wear face coverings, unless required by a state or local order or ordinance, beginning May 15.

“In accordance with CDC guidelines, individuals who are not fully vaccinated are required to use face coverings over their noses and mouths while inside any Publix store.”

Throughout the weekend, various other businesses were already adhering to the new mask guidance, according to news outlets.

But at this point, I was still wearing a mask because I wasn’t sure how this episode was going to play out.

A Publix cashier said you don’t need a mask if you’re fully vaccinated.

So I started to pull out my “COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card” in my wallet, to show evidence that I’m fully vaccinated. But that turned out to be unnecessary. No proof was needed.

As I left the Publix store, I thought: This is a weird situation.

What if someone says they are fully vaccinated but maybe they just got the first Pfizer or Moderna shot, but not the second? There’s no proof.

What if someone who says they are fully vaccinated, but they really aren’t vaccinated and they never plan to be vaccinated?

What if someone says nothing and no one at the store asks any questions?

The scenarios are all scary.

Walking around the store, I wouldn’t know if someone is fully vaccinated or not, and that makes me concerned about the overall COVID picture.

When the CDC announced this week that Americans fully vaccinated against COVID-19 did not need to wear masks in most situations, indoors and outdoors, there was a catch: Most residents still aren’t fully vaccinated.

And our latest Phoenix story showed that Florida is at 34.3 percent based on residents fully vaccinated — slightly lower than the national average, according to CDC data.

So COVID is still among us, and COVID mutations, called variants, are thriving and still infecting and killing people. Florida has had the highest number of variants in the nation, mostly from the United Kingdom strain.

But as it stands now, and despite all the science about COVID, it appears that we will need to be on the “Scout’s honor” system when it comes to proof of being fully vaccinated.

(I was a Girl Scout for many years and being a Girl Scout was all about honor, trust and truthfulness.)

Earlier this month, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a law, effective July 1, that would ban so-called vaccine passports in Florida — documents, on paper or on cellphone apps, attesting that the holder has been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus.

The governor said previously that he had repudiated the notion of vaccine passports, citing medical privacy concerns and opposition to the notion that people should show their papers — or more likely smartphone app verification — to do basic business.

So in Florida, there’s no proof necessary to show someone is fully vaccinated,  and those who aren’t fully vaccinated might just say nothing and get rid of their masks anyway.

I hope everyone will follow all of the CDC mask guidelines and adhere to the “Scout’s honor” rule.

But I’d rather keep a mask on for now, because COVID is still infecting and killing Floridians.

Please let me know what you think.

And please read the latest CDC guidelines on masks, at:

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/fully-vaccinated-guidance.html

Diane Rado
Diane Rado has covered state and local government and public schools in six states over some 30 years, focusing on policy and investigative stories as well as legislative and political reporting. She spent most of her career at the St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay) Times and the Chicago Tribune. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and did a fellowship in education reform at the University of Michigan in 1999-2000. She is married to a journalist and has three adult children.