covid mask

The new masking guidance from the Centers for Disease Control has sent parts of the United States into a tailspin.

Many people have been wearing masks for many many months as a sign of 1) belief in the science that they make us all safer, 2) I am not a Trump supporter, 3) My mask protects both you and me. Now they are suddenly being told that they don’t need to wear masks outside at all, or inside if they are around other vaccinated people. But there’s a lot of uncertainty: If I see a person without a mask, should I assume that person is vaccinated, or should I assume she’s an anti-masker? And if I’ve got small children, or am immunocompromised, what am I supposed to do to keep everyone safe?

Masking and vaccines are inextricably linked, Dr. Leana Wen wrote in a recent opinion piece in The Washington Post.

“The problem is this: You know what you’re doing, but you have no way to be confident of trusting everyone else. Let’s say you go the grocery store. It’s crowded and few people there are masked. Perhaps everyone is vaccinated, but perhaps not. What if you’re vaccinated but not fully protected because you’re immunocompromised? You can no longer count on CDC rules to help you keep safe. What if you don’t have child care, so you had to bring your kids along? They didn’t choose to remain unvaccinated — the shots aren’t available for them. Surely, it’s not fair to put them at risk.

“Here’s another example. As employers are formulating return-to-work policies, many employees are expressing that they are nervous about coming back in person. What reassures them is if the workplace continues to abide by mitigation measures such as masking and distancing, or, in its place, the employer requires vaccination. Imagine, if you will, now being scheduled to come into an office where vaccination isn’t checked and masking is, therefore, optional.”

Churches and other places of worship seem to be a special case; places where people gather indoors in large groups and sing or otherwise commune — Bible study groups, choral readings, Communion — have different concerns. We wrote about that here.

‘I’m wearing a mask forever’

We asked on social media for people to tell us how they feel about the new C.D.C. guidelines. Here are some responses.

“Nope, I’m wearing a mask forever. Except maybe July. And don’t anybody DARE hug me w/o my consent!”
— Disabled former customer service consultant from Wilmington, DE, 56, with a genetic immune deficiency.

“I’ve been as safe as anyone, and limited in my activities for over a year. So I’m ready to let ‘we rip. But I really have no idea of the CDC jumped the gun on this or not, so I’ll tread carefully at least for now.” (48 year old lawyer from Boca Raton, Florida)”

“My block is filled with children under 12. I’m going to be carrying a mask, using it when close to folks or inside. No way will I be a vector for these children. I think it is the polite thing to do, to protect others. (Disabled, vaccinated, and 60 years old.) That said, I’m lucky to not have to wear one for 8 hours straight.”

“Parent of 3 kids under 12. Kids are masked and distanced at school, we will continue mask protocols until they AND their classmates are vaccinated. I am fully vaccinated and will continue to mask indoors and in mixed groups; anywhere I ask my kids to mask, I will too. (SF Bay Area)”

Masking in the schools, and not masking in the schools

-response: “our school superintendent just confirmed this will be our policy at school until vaccines will be available to all students.”

-response: “this doesn’t answer your question but here in Iowa our department of public health just released this absolute nonsense response to the cdcs updated mask guidance. Children getting the vaccine TODAY won’t be fully vaccinated until the school year ends…, “We are concurrently revising our COVID-19 guidance for school and child care settings, including quarantine guidance, to recommend that while COVID-19 positive and symptomatic children should be excluded, exposed children should no longer be required to stay home, regardless of mask usage. Moreover, when there is a positive case, parents should be given information around exposure to COVID-19 in order to make their own informed decisions regarding risk. To that end, while we acknowledge that some parents may want their child to continue to wear a cloth face covering for reasons that make sense for their family or that child’s individual health condition, we urge schools and child care settings to provide parents and students with the option to make their own decision about mask usage.”
Full statement:…/IDPH-Issues-Updated-COVID-19…

-“I am a “county wellness worker” in rural Iowa. I am not an expert in healthcare. I’ve been fully-vaccinated for about a month, and I have felt so free! I have been masking, but I was pretty delighted to hear the CDC said those of us fully-vaccinated no longer needed to mask nearly as often. That said, I have seen a lot of vaccine hesitancy over the last month in rural Iowa, and a big justification over the last month was that ‘you still have to mask.’ I am afraid that this message is too little too late, because we really needed it a month ago when there were multiple large vaccination events being offered across the state and it felt like a lot of people were getting vaccinated. By releasing this message now, the CDC missed a chance to motivate people when a lot of others were choosing to get vaccinated. Now, if you want to get vaccinated where I work, you have to make an individual appointment. It’s no longer something a ton of people are doing together. Why would you go out of your way alone to get vaccinated now? I mean I hope someone would, but it feels to me like the message is one month too late. People who were looking for a reason to NOT get the vaccine had one during the time it was most popular to get the vaccine. All that said, the message about not needing a mask if you are now fully vaccinated is being misinterpreted. The Iowa Department of Public Health released a statement yesterday saying they are changing their policy about kids masking in schools and daycares.

“Prior to yesterday, if a child was exposed to someone with COVID-19 but had been wearing a mask, they weren’t asked to quarantine. Now, if a child is exposed to COVID-19 whether or not they are wearing a mask it’s now up to the parent to decide if the child needs to quarantine. Tell me how that decision relates to the announcement that fully vaccinated adults don’t need to mask as often. We just started vaccinating 12-15 year olds a few days ago. Two kids in my house were immediately vaccinated, and they will not be fully vaccinated until after the school year ends. Meanwhile in the last few days our governor said Iowans don’t need to fear COVID-19.

“It seems like the message that fully-vaccinated adults can go without masks has been intentionally misinterpreted to give people who aren’t vaccinated the ‘freedom’ to also go without masks. I’m personally going to keep masking when it isn’t a bother, but I won’t be as concerned if I forget a mask. That said, I’ve not been sick once this year and I recognize masking reduces other illness I don’t want. As long as it’s not totally unacceptable to mask, I’ll continue to wear a mask sometimes.”

‘Ditched the mask’

“Ditched the mask after vaccine immunity. I live alone in a conservative small city. High anti mask sentiment made it difficult to enforce even pre-vaccine. Govt employee, CO, 28.”

“I’m fully vaxxed, a retired RN, disabled.
I will keep wearing a mask.
I do not want to kill anyone, nor catch a variant. Pandemic has been not much different from regular life as I stay home. Going out is exhausting. Live alone. Thank goodness! Also: Too many non-maskers, anti-vaxxers will lie and say they’ve been vaxxed.
But I will resume outdoor visits with friends @ coffee shops.
Bring on the yearly COVID19 variant vaxxes, too.”

“I think it’s way too early to lift indoor mask mandates. I’m not worried about getting sick because I’m vaccinated, but a lot of people still aren’t vaccinated and this is risky for them. I’m happy to continue wearing a mask indoors until a lot more people are vaxxed. I think removing outdoor mask mandates is fine. -Librarian in DC”

“I think it is way too early to lift mandates and it’s incredibly disrespectful and dangerous for people who are unable to be vaccinated or who are immunosuppressed. It’s a baffling decision, frankly. We will continue wearing our masks and will only go indoors places where masks are enforced. My husband and I are both vaccinated but our three small kids are not. —educator and mom of three small kids in MN”

“Psychologist and professor. Mother of two teens. Everyone in my family is fully vaxxed. I quit wearing a mask inside as soon as the CDC made the announcement. I will wear it inside if required by a business or my work.”

‘It feels like I’ve just been abandoned’

“I wish the CDC had issued guidance based on transmission rates and vaccine uptake that could be used to determine appropriate actions at the local level. It doesn’t matter what is happening at the national level if most of my neighbors aren’t getting vaccinated. I’m trying to keep my higher risk son safe in a community that doesn’t care if he’s safe or not, and it feels like I’ve just been abandoned. Mom and scientist in rural Utah.”

“Immunocompromised; father of two. The official guidance from the CDC is that immunocompromised people should maintain pre-vaccine safety guidelines, which include not being in close proximity with unmasked, unvaccinated people. The CDC is also smart enough to know that a recommendation that unvaccinated people continue to wear masks is not going to be heeded by most. In fact, I’m surprised they could write that with a straight face.

“Putting that all together, the CDC is telling immunocompromised people that they basically can’t go shopping any more, or go indoors in any public location. The CDC just said that they don’t have a plan for 2-3% of Americans. … “I’m following CDC guidelines, which are that vaccinated immunocompromised people should not be around unvaccinated people not wearing masks. Yesterday morning, in Colorado, I could enter a Wal-mart or a Costco under the CDC guidelines. Today, I can’t.”

“I think a lot of people are not psychologically ready to let loose of the COVID restrictions they have been living with. They were ok with strict guidelines because it resonated with how they felt they should behave. But as the cdc had responded to the vaccine and the safety associated with it, there is hesitancy to change behavior. It was ok to follow the cdc when the guidelines fit their worldview but now that it has shifted their is discomfort”

“the CDC under Trump was compromised and was giving bad information. So it’s a little hard to shift to believing them. In addition, dropping mask mandates means people who don’t want to get vaccinated and don’t want to wear masks will just say they’re vaccinated. My household made a lot of changes to loosen up our very strict restrictions yesterday, but we still have one half-vaccinated and one unvaccinated child, and plan to keep masking around most people, and not spending a lot of time indoors anywhere but home, and to mask when we do.”

‘Ready to relax my guard somewhat’

“65-year old and fully vaccinated in the [DC, Maryland and Virginia area], which has a high vaccination rate and very low positivity right now. While I am concerned that the new guidance gives non-vaccinated individuals the ability to go maskless and claim that they have been vaccinated, I am ready to relax my guard somewhat. You have to trust statistics.

“With the vaccine, there is an extremely low risk of getting COVID and if you get it, it will be mild. Furthermore, research has now shown that vaccinated people cannot give COVID to unvaccinated folks (the viral load is too low). During most of the pandemic, my wife and I did not go out much, but we did not fully shelter in place. We went to grocery stores and Costco, masked of course. And we also took 2 long road trips to Minnesota — a little worrying, but we were able to keep ourselves to outdoor dining and highway restrooms.

“I have been going maskless outdoors, except in congested urban areas, and my wife and I have eaten inside restaurants several times. We keep the mask on when interacting with the waitperson, but take it off to eat. I will always carry a mask, follow posted mask requirements, and wear a mask in certain circumstances to respect other people’s concerns, but I will not be overly risk averse going forward.”

“There are major equity issues with vaccination rates, so rates have been lower in Black & Brown communities for access, not intent, reasons. But beyond that, if you have to wear a mask to get in, vaccine skeptics suck it up and do it. But if it’s not required, they won’t.”

“I am going to keep wearing a mask until all the kids are vaccinated and until there is some reasonable percentage of Americans who are vaccinated. I invite everyone else to do the same. In-person contact seems fine as long as it is masked. But unmasked? Not yet, for me.”

Jeanne Pinder

Jeanne Pinder  is the founder and CEO of ClearHealthCosts. She worked at The New York Times for almost 25 years as a reporter, editor and human resources executive, then volunteered for a buyout and founded...