COVID-19 prevention strategies have changed so many times over the past year that my head is still spinning.
And due to all of this flip-flopping, many folks are uneasy about any shift in behavior, especially when it comes to mask-wearing.
At first, we were told that masks were unnecessary… and then for more than a year, public health officials repeatedly told us that masks save lives (while warning us to also keep our distance from others).
Then, out of the blue, they started telling us that if we’re vaccinated, we no longer need to wear masks or physically distance ourselves from others in most cases—even indoors.
So I understand both the enthusiasm for throwing masks away and the hesitation to let go of that security blanket.
Now, being a New Yorker, I live in a very densely populated place. And after everything we went through last year alone, I can’t help but panic a little when I see throngs of people—even outdoors.
Wherever you live, perhaps you relate. So, let’s talk about this drastic shift in behavior, what it means for you and those around you, and how you can move forward…
A deeper look behind newly issued guidelines
First and foremost, it’s important to note that this dramatic reversal in mask-wearing policy applies ONLY to people who have been fully vaccinated. But it’s just as important to note that, even if you are vaccinated, you don’t need to stop wearing a mask if you are uncomfortable doing so.
Let’s not forget that many people have lost loved ones to COVID-19, so the fear of returning to something that resembles normality can be quite real.
Others are just more cautious by nature. (I include myself in that category.) Indeed, I know I can do most things now without a fear of getting sick or spreading disease to others. But the hesitation remains because we still don’t know much about this disease and how it’s going to progress over the coming months.
In fact, what we know now is still subject to change—and the advice will change (once again) as we learn more, too.
Just think about it. We used to think this virus could spread from surfaces and through touching. (The notion of spraying or wiping everything down seems silly now—but at the beginning, no one could keep disinfectant wipes in stock.)
Now, we know aerosol transmission is the main way the virus spreads. (Hence why masks and social distancing are so vital for recovery.)
It’s also becoming increasingly clear that being vaccinated reduces the risk of infecting others. As more people get vaccinated, the virus finds fewer susceptible people, further reducing transmission and producing a downward spiral in the number of cases.
And that protection seems to be good for at least a year and counting—but we still don’t know for sure yet. So we’re not out of the woods just yet.
The way I see it, another few months of wearing a mask while we wait to see how it all shakes out isn’t going to kill me. So, here’s how I’ve been handling the shift in policy…
Be aware of your surroundings
-Be flexible in personal spaces. If you’re indoors with other people you know to be vaccinated, go ahead and ditch the mask and hug it out. (Assuming, of course, everyone is comfortable being close, without a mask.)
-Be respectful in public. If you’re in a mixed crowd—like a store, restaurant, bus, subway, or plane—wear a mask (even though your own personal risk of infection is low if you’ve been fully vaccinated).
-Be mindful of vulnerable populations. If kids are around, mask up. Most kids between 12- and 16- years have not been vaccinated. And we still don’t have approval for those younger than 12 years. (Even though this population hasn’t been hit as hard as adults, as yesterday’s conversation showed, kids are not immune.)
The bottom line is, this is a public health issue… one we are all a part of. Meaning, sometimes you have to do things you don’t like for the common good.
If you’re out at a restaurant or a store and the workers are wearing masks, you should be wearing one, too. It’s just the respectful thing to do. They could be immune-compromised, unable to get vaccinated for another health reason, or simply just nervous about letting masks go. Whatever the reason, it’s a matter of courtesy to keep yours on in their presence.
And I must admit that, no matter where you stand on this entire issue, that’s the one thing that has bothered me the most throughout this entire pandemic: Americans have lost respect for one another.
Still, there’s hope. And especially as we wait to see what happens come this fall and into winter, I’ll continue to urge caution and respect. It’s just the right thing to do!
P.S. I also encourage you to keep your immune health top of mind as we fight against COVID-19. That’s why I outlined all of my top immune health recommendations in one convenient report, my Complete Guide to Year-Round Immunity. Click here to learn more!
“Being Vaccinated Doesn’t Mean You Must Go Maskless. Here’s Why.” Medscape Medical News, 06/15/21. (medscape.com/viewarticle/953114)