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Mask messaging could change minds

May 21st, 2021 by dk

Like it or not, we can’t stop talking about masks. I’m as bored of the topic as you are, but some things can’t be dropped until the goal has been accomplished. During a week when the Middle East is once again aflame, we should remind ourselves that our mask conflicts haven’t actually been going on for all that long.

The Center for Disease Control revised its guidance last week, assuring the public that those who are fully vaccinated can drop their masks and begin to resume their normal lives. That sounded like very good news. Then came the cascade of caveats. Masks are still required on planes, trains, buses, and everywhere businesses choose to require them. Oregon hasn’t dropped its mask requirements. Neither has California.

Sometimes the fine print that gets overlooked is right up front. The new CDC guidelines apply to those who are fully vaccinated. That usually means two shots at least 21 days apart, plus another 14 days of waiting for our immune system to gain full resistance.

Do the math. Oregon first made the vaccine widely available on Monday, April 19. Seniors, teachers, and front-line workers excepted, most Oregonians couldn’t have completed the five-week regimen until Monday, May 24. If you have able-bodied friends who claim they are fully vaccinated now, they either jumped the line for their first shot or they haven’t finished the final 14 days. Either way, they’re scofflaws.

Government officials have been pleading with the public to be honest with themselves and to trust others. Pardon us for wondering what sort of Brigadoon these officials live in. We can’t trust SUV drivers not to park in spaces labeled “Compact Cars Only.” We should trust they are being honest with themselves about their COVID-19 immunity?

I understand that there’s often a gap between good policy and effective messaging. “Keep calm and carry on” was important for Britons to hear during WWII, even if the advice wasn’t helpful to those whose homes were being bombed. Collective action sometimes conflicts with individual circumstances. This may be one of those instances.

American health officials saw vaccine demand slacking, so they altered their messaging strategy. “(Fear and pleading isn’t working. Let’s try envy!) Look at all those happy, maskless people enjoying life, because they are fully vaccinated. Wouldn’t you like to be among them? Get your shots and you too can show the world your smile again!”

Among those at risk now will be the pretenders — those who aren’t yet protected by a vaccine and who abandon the defenses a mask can provide. Their smiles may be short-lived.

On the other hand, this new strategy could work. Maybe people will be honest. Maybe they’ll fake their vaccination bona fides and then feel bad, motivating them to get their shots. Maybe hospitalizations won’t spike. Maybe herd immunity is closer than scientists thought. Maybe masks will be respected if infections rise again.

If we can beat the virus and broker a durable Middle East peace, then maybe we can move on to keeping SUVs out of parking spaces not designed for them.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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