The Coronavirus Brief Newsletter

BY JAMIE DUCHARME | Time | May 21, 2021

Is the CDC’s New Mask Policy Working Out?

As demand for vaccinations drops in the U.S., states are turning to increasingly dramatic measures—Dinner with the governor! Multi-million-dollar lotteries!—to convince people to get their shots. But perhaps the boldest incentive yet has come from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which last week said that fully vaccinated people can go maskless, inside and out. The CDC is essentially dangling a carrot: if you get your shot, you can have your regular life back.

Lots of experts have questioned whether that strategy will work, and some argue it will backfire. After all, the policy is almost impossible to enforce. There’s little to stop unvaccinated people from going mask-free right alongside those who have had their shots, which could allow the virus to keep spreading. That’s a particular risk in indoor environments, like stores and offices.

But new TIME/Harris Poll data offer a slightly more optimistic view of the CDC’s gamble. The agency’s policy, Harris found, has actually motivated some people to get vaccinated—but not necessarily for the reason you’d think.

Thirty-seven percent of people vaccinated in the last seven days told Harris that the CDC’s new mask policy encouraged them to get a shot. That’s a positive, if not massive, effect. But the data also reveal an arguably more interesting finding: When Harris asked people who’d been vaccinated in the last seven days why they’d gotten a shot, almost half said they got vaccinated, at least in part, because they wanted to protect themselves around maskless unvaccinated people.

The CDC’s new policy probably isn’t the only driver of that feeling—more people are going maskless as case counts drop and states reopen regardless—but it likely played a role. Whether that was the agency’s intended result or not, it does seem that its mask policy is affecting people’s decisions about vaccination. And with demand slowing, any uptick, regardless of reasoning, is a good sign.


About 351.9 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been shipped to various U.S. states as of this morning, of which 279.3 million doses have been administered thus far, according to TIME’s vaccine tracker. About 38.1% of Americans have been completely vaccinated.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who arrived at the White House today for a visit with U.S. President Joe Biden, may ask to borrow some vaccine doses from the U.S. now and send others back later, the Wall Street Journalreports. South Korea has only vaccinated about 3% of its population, while about half of the U.S. population has gotten at least one shot. It’s not clear whether the Biden Administration would agree to such a suggestion, but the reported plan highlights how desperate even some wealthy countries are for vaccines.

Some experts were initially skeptical of countries like the U.K. that opted to delay second vaccine doses in favor of getting first shots out to as many people as possible. But research increasingly suggests that such an approach works. One new preprint study of Pfizer-BioNTech’s shots, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, found that people may actually produce more antibodies if shots are given further apart than the recommended three weeks. “If I could, I would push a button that says right now, this second, we give one dose to everybody we can reach,” one virologist told Bloomberg.

The Global Situation

More than 165.5 million people around the world had been diagnosed with COVID-19 as of 1 a.m. E.T. today, and more than 3.4 million people have died. On May 20, there were 628,529 new cases and 12,644 new deaths confirmed globally.

Here’s how the world as a whole is currently trending:

Here’s where daily cases have risen or fallen over the last 14 days, shown in confirmed cases per 100,000 residents:

And here is every country with over 2.5 million confirmed cases:

Countries around the world are trying to convince their residents to get vaccinated, with varying degrees of success. In places like Australia, where COVID-19 transmission is virtually non-existent, the fight may be especially difficult, in part because people don’t see the virus as a huge threat. About a third of Australians recently said they’re unlikely to get vaccinated, the BBC reports, and only 3.2 million doses have been given to Australia’s 26 million residents. The slow rollout has experts concerned that Australia may not be ready to re-open its borders as planned next year.

Global food prices have risen by about a third over the last year, compounding the economic issues caused by pandemic-related job losses, the Wall Street Journal reports. The pandemic has affected the food supply chain in many ways: restrictions on movement have made imports and exports more difficult, for example, and consumer behavior has shifted as cash-strapped people rely on cheap options like wheat and corn rather than fresh produce and meat. All told, about 270 million people in 79 countries are suffering from acute malnutrition right now, according to the Journal.

The Situation in the U.S.

The U.S. had recorded more than 33 million coronavirus cases as of 1 a.m. E.T. today. More than 588,500 people have died. On May 20, there were 30,141 new cases and 665 new deaths confirmed in the U.S.

Here’s how the country as a whole is currently trending:

Here’s where daily cases have risen or fallen over the last 14 days, shown in confirmed cases per 100,000 residents:

About 45% of American Indian/Alaska Native people in the U.S. have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine—a higher rate than any other racial or ethnic group, according to federal data reported by Kaiser Health News. That’s in large part because tribes have handled vaccination themselves or with help from the Indian Health Service, KHN writes, often starting with respected tribal elders who others trust. By comparison, about 41% of Asian people in the U.S. have gotten a shot, followed by 33% of White Americans, 29% of Hispanic Americans and 22% of Black Americans.

The governors of New York and Maryland announced yesterday that their states will join the growing list of areas incentivizing vaccination with serious cash prizes. Every New Yorker who gets vaccinated from Monday to Friday of next week will be entered in a drawing to win as much as $5 million. Meanwhile, in Maryland, one vaccinated resident will be randomly selected each day to receive $40,000 for the next 40 days. On July 4, one lucky vaccinated person will receive a grand prize of $400,000.

All numbers unless otherwise specified are from the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering, and are accurate as of May 21, 1 a.m. E.T. To see larger, interactive versions of these maps and charts, click here.

Read the full newsletter at Time.