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COVID-19 vaccines and the 'honor code:' How the new CDC guidelines will play out in Michigan

Posted at 1:10 PM, May 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-21 18:30:51-04

(WXYZ) — Kroger and the Archdiocese. What do they have in common? Relaxed mask policies for those who are fully vaccinated.

"If you follow the CDC guidelines, if you do what’s necessary to be safe, it works," said Monsignor Chuck Kosanke Wednesday, as the Archdiocese shared the news that vaccinated parishioners can now attend mass maskless.

The news comes a week after the CDC announced that vaccinated individuals no longer need to wear masks indoors.

"They’re trying to give a reward for people who are vaccinated. And people who are vaccinated really in many circumstances don’t need to be wearing a mask," said University of Michigan epidemiologist Arnold Monto, acting chair of the FDA's Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee.

"They’re trying to give [vaccinated people] an advantage for doing what they should have been doing, and not saying, ‘Ok, you’ve done it but you still have to do exactly what you did before,'" Monto continued.

While Monto and other health experts understand why the CDC made the decision — especially given the efficacy of the vaccines — the news has resulted in some difficult conversations: How does one prove they've been vaccinated?

"The issue is you’re now on your own, your personal responsibility and the honor system," said Joel Fishbain, an infectious disease specialist with Beaumont Health.

With masks being a flashpoint this entire pandemic — even when cases and deaths were sky-high — this “code” feels made to broken. And it's now up to businesses to decide how to navigate this new terrain.

"Businesses have their own issues and they have questions of liability," said Monto, noting that some businesses are following the guidance while others are still asking patrons to wear masks, even if they've been vaccinated.

While many in the former category are going by an "honor code" system, Monto points out that even if one did want to validate a person's vaccine status, this could be difficult.

"We are locked into a system in which there is no good documentation of who was vaccinated and who not," said Monto, noting that while this could have been possible it appeared to put too much stress on the US health infrastructure.

"We got the vaccine out, that was the key thing, documenting it while we got it out seemed to be a bridge too far," he continued.

While vaccine distributors are supposed to input data into the Michigan Care Improvement Registry — or MiCAR — who has access to MiCAR data is limited and the input can be unreliable. More specifically, there is no national database — simply paper cards doled out to each person.

"My card, I noticed my name and date of birth weren’t even written on it," said Monto. "For documentation that really doesn’t work."

The lack of uniformity means the "honor code" is the way forward. But how trustworthy — and collective-minded — are people?

"You’ve got unvaccinated individuals who really hate the mask and won’t wear it," said Fishbain, pointing to one of the first worries that came out when the new guideline was announced.

Health experts, however, say the vaccine is effective enough that if a maskless vaccinated person came in contact with an unvaccinated person breaking the honor code, they likely would not get COVID, much less a severe case.

Still, they say, wear a mask if that will make you feel more at ease.

"I think people should wear masks if they’re more comfortable wearing a mask," said Fishbain.

Starting June 1, Michigan is lifting all outdoor capacity limits and increasing indoor capacity limits to 50%.