Friday, May 14, 2021

To Mask or Not to Mask?

Cindy wearing a CARE mask that says

Here we are at last. The CDC announced that vaccinated folk don’t have to wear our masks anymore, outdoors or indoors. Yay! Kind of…

This announcement doesn’t mean the COVID-19 pandemic is over, but it shows we’re firmly moving into a next phase of the pandemic. This phase might be less frightening in the US, but it’s still terrifying for those living in countries like India and Nepal where COVID-19 runs rampant with cities running out of oxygen and funeral pyres burn in the streets. It’s still frustrating for low-income countries like Ghana and Trinidad & Tobago lacking vaccines for a significant portion of their population.

So, now that vaccinated Americans have a new freedom we can exercise, what now? We’re not at 100% vaccination coverage…heck we don’t even have the 70-80% required for herd immunity. We can’t tell by looking at people whether they had the vaccine. How should we think about it?

Kindness Still Matters.

One of my mommy-mantras that I say to my kids is: “Just because you CAN do a thing, doesn’t mean you SHOULD do a thing.” While I look forward to putting my mask aside in some situations, I think my mantra can help us consider when and wear to keep our masks on.

Last year, I wrote that staying home to “Flatten the Curve" was an act of kindness. Now, I’m saying that wearing a mask-even when you’re not required to-can be an act of kindness as well. Here are some ways wearing your mask in public can spread kindness and empathy.

Help others around you feel comfortable.

My 15-year-old just got her first dose yesterday. However, as she watched older kids and adults get vaccinated all around her in the last few months, she felt uncomfortable in situations where they would take off their masks and urge her to do the same. I know of another teen who has had such anxiety in the past year that she wears a mask even alone in her room just because it helps her feel comfortable and safe. 

We will still have a lot of tweens and teens unvaccinated for the next few months since the federal approval just happened this week. Plus, ALL children under 12 are still unvaccinated. Even though the risk is lower is lower these days, there are a lot of feelings still on high-alert. We can extend grace to those who feel anxious.

Protect the vulnerable among us.

 Tweet from Upgrade Accessibility warning that the 
CDC announcement is dangerous for
disabled/chronically ill people.
A norm of mask wearing helps keep our disabled, immunocompromised, and chronically ill friends safe. There are some among them unable to get the vaccine. Some of them are fully vaccinated, but suffer from poor immunity, so they just can’t gamble. If a vaccine is 94% effective against COVID-19, chances of contracting are small, but would be disastrous. Breakthrough cases are not common, but definitely expected. 

Tweet from vaccinated & immunocompromised 
individual asking for understanding for his
continued mask wearing.
You can’t tell who these folks are by looking at them. So, again, if someone asks you to put on a mask, don’t ask why. Just think about these reasons and be gracious as you mask up.

Set a good example.

You can help normalize wearing a mask for those that are afraid to get the vaccine, but still need to wear a mask. The CDC tells us that 65% of the US population is still unvaccinated today. That tells me that over half of Americans should still mask up indoors, including children from ages 2-12. Every parent knows kids are more likely to exhibit good behavior if parents are set a good example to follow. If I had kids under 12, I would surely mask up in solidarity, so they know it's important and don't get grumbly about it.

People’s reasons for not yet getting the COVID-19 are varied. It’s not that all of them just don’t care. I know there are people afraid of needles, afraid of the vaccine, afraid their immigration status will impact their vaccine access, afraid to take time off work to get vaccinated, afraid they can’t afford the vaccine (not true, it’s free!), etc, etc. We’ve got a lot of hurdles to overcome. While we overcome them, I don’t want any of those people to feel peer-pressured by ME to take their masks off! Because if they do, we’re all going to live with COVID-19 restrictions for a longer time.

Protect everyone from COVID-19 variants.

Cindy with her favorite Sustainable
Development Goal:
#3 Good Health & Well-Being
As a global health advocate, I can’t stress how important it is to continue to think globally. The global situation for COVID-19 variants is still very unstable, even for people who are fully vaccinated. We don’t yet have aggressive testing in place to track dangerous variants, so we won’t know about them until they are a serious problem.

We’ve gotten very lucky so far that none of the variants have yet eluded the current vaccines. Mask wearing both protects a population from variant outbreaks and provides fewer opportunities for dangerous variants to form during a pandemic phase (like right now) where the disease is still unchecked in a large part of the world.

In what situations will you still wear a mask? 

Will you put one on if someone asks you to do so?

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