So he did his part to ensure his safety and that of his community: most of the time he stayed at home, wore his mask and only had a group of close people with whom he interacted.
“I was one of those people, the second the CDC said that vaccinated people didn’t need masks on the outside or inside, I was like ‘Hallelujah’,” said McCullough to CNN.
But with Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations on the rise again and US officials suddenly reimposing restrictions after a summer of semi-normality, McCullough and many other vaccinated Americans are growing increasingly angry with those who refuse the vaccine.
The average number of new cases per day is up more than 400% since last month. Hospitals are filling again with Covid-19 patients – much younger than ever and for the most part unvaccinated. Mask warrants are back in parts of the country. And this week, the CDC updated the guidelines it released in May and said fully vaccinated people should wear masks indoors in areas with “substantial” or “high” transmission of Covid- 19 to prevent the spread of the dangerous Delta variant. More than 80% of the American population lives in a county affected by this directive.
In Alabama – the least vaccinated state in the country – Gov. Kay Ivey called on residents who refused to be vaccinated, saying “it is time to start blaming unvaccinated people” for the increase in cases in its state.
In Alexandria, where McCullough lives, about 58.4% of residents aged 12 and over are fully immunized. The city has been “elevated to a state of substantial community transmission of COVID-19,” according to a press release from the city. Health officials are urging residents to wear masks in indoor public places. Virginia Governor Ralph Northam made the same recommendation to residents on Thursday, adding that “getting vaccinated is the surest way to end this pandemic.”
McCullough says he’s now back to bring his mask with him when he steps out and fears his community will soon face a new set of tough restrictions.
“The repercussions will fall on people like me, who have taken their responsibilities,” he said. “And it’s maddening. “
“I just feel like it’s not going to end”
About 57.4% of the U.S. population has received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine and about 49.5% are fully vaccinated, according to CDC data. Much like face masks, vaccines have become highly politicized in parts of the country, resulting in very different coverage rates. And the reluctance and rejection of vaccines has been fueled by the misinformation and lies that continue to plague online.
Areas with low vaccination rates are now experiencing dangerous epidemics.
Average Covid-19 hospitalization rates are nearly three times higher among states that have fully vaccinated less than half of their residents compared to the average among those who have vaccinated more than half, according to analysis from CNN Federal Data. And Covid-19 case and death rates over the past week were on average more than twice as high among states that have vaccinated less than half of their residents.
President Joe Biden said this week that the pandemic was raging “because of the unvaccinated.”
“If you’re not vaccinated you’re not as smart as I thought you were,” Biden said.
With growing concern over the rising number of Covid-19s, some local leaders have reimplemented mask mandates for everyone, regardless of vaccination status. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms issued an executive order late Wednesday requiring everyone to wear a mask indoors, citing CDC guidelines.
Tim Hildreth, 39, who lives in nearby Powder Springs, said it was frustrating to feel like he was stepping out of the normalcy he briefly tasted after being vaccinated.
“I’m done with these mandates to protect people who won’t go out of their way to do it themselves,” Hildreth said.
He said he was working from home during the pandemic and his young daughter was always masked when she went to school. Hildreth got the vaccine because he was eager to return to a pre-pandemic lifestyle and be able to attend concerts and sporting events.
But now, in the midst of a new wave, he says, “it just feels like it’s not going to stop.”
Expert: It makes sense to be angry with the return of directives
Experts say many are expected to feel angry at the return of mask measures.
“It’s very difficult to pull someone away from the finish line when it feels like they finally have the ribbon in sight,” Mitch Prinstein, scientific director of the American Psychological Association, told CNN.
“I think we can also understand anger in a context of exhaustion, anxiety, uncertainty, and you know, a serious split in ideology too,” Prinstein added. “These factors are very real and very worrying right now. “
Jenny Tolford, who lives in a rural community in northern California, said the thought of not being able to get back to normal anytime soon is “exhausting.”
“It seemed like we were starting to get the hang of it,” Tolford said. “It’s just frustrating, it’s exhausting, to feel like we’re just going back and we’re just sort of, now it looks like we’re just spinning around the drain. “
Tolford said that although she received the vaccine, the Covid-19 measurements and vaccinations are a point of division in the largely conservative community in which she lives. There are residents who “will make you ashamed to wear a mask,” she said, and others who have received the vaccine “speak quietly”.
The refusal of the Covid-19 vaccine has increased among far-right Republicans in recent months, according to data from a survey released Wednesday by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Interfaith Youth Core. About 46% of Republicans who trust far-right news the most said they would refuse to be vaccinated, compared with 31% who said the same in March.
The refusal to get vaccinated in his community, Tolford said, is fueled by misinformation on social media.
“It’s not freedom”
While Tolford said she understood people’s feelings about being forced to shoot, she said many people view their decision to refuse as a “constitutional type of freedom” when it comes down to it. This is in fact a community public health problem.
“Why should those who don’t seem to want to do what’s best for the public now just get an opening again, when they’re just broadcasting the Delta variant?” ” she said.
“Those of us who have been vaccinated, we want to live our lives,” Tolford said. “The way to do it was to get vaccinated and we did and now you still don’t want to put others first and put the greatest good of society first so maybe you have to. just stay home. Maybe it’s time you can’t do it all because you don’t want to participate. “
Tolford said she supports the idea of vaccine passports and will also support vaccines mandated by employers. Some companies, including Google and Facebook, have already announced vaccine requirements for their employees. President Biden on Thursday announced the requirement that all federal employees be vaccinated against Covid-19 or be subject to strict protocols.
Hildreth and McCullough also support the idea of companies requiring vaccines.
“Personal freedom is really overdone in this country, to the point where people are just put in danger,” McCullough said. “For people to think they have this authority and autonomy, just to put others at risk, is infuriating. “
He said he feared the virus would continue to mutate and eventually become much worse than the current circulating variants.
“It’s not the freedom that you make that decision that then impacts my freedom,” he said. “It’s not freedom at all. “
CNN’s Jen Christensen and Deidre McPhillips contributed to this report.