May 21, 2021

Why some fully vaccinated people are still wearing masks

Daily Briefing

    Although CDC in its latest guidance said fully vaccinated people can forgo masks in most situations, some fully vaccinated people are opting to keep their masks on for now—and plan to do so for the foreseeable future.

    Is America's coronavirus future 'good,' 'bad,' or 'ugly'? It's all three.

    What CDC's new guidance says

    In guidance issued last week, CDC said Americans who have received their final Covid-19 vaccine dose at least two weeks previously can go without a mask and do not need to socially distance in most situations.  

    However, fully vaccinated Americans should continue wearing masks in health care facilities, such as hospitals; on public transit and during air travel; when around the immunocompromised; and in congregate settings, such as homeless shelters or jails, CDC said. Vaccinated Americans should also continue to abide by local and federal mask mandates.

    According to CDC, unvaccinated Americans—including those who are not yet fully vaccinated—should continue to wear masks and socially distance.

    Why some vaccinated Americans are still wearing masks

    Despite the new guidance, many vaccinated Americans are still choosing to wear masks in public.

    For instance, Joe Glickman, a professional photographer and musician in New York, wears an N95 mask, a cloth mask, and a pair of goggles every time he goes to the grocery store—and he told the New York Times he plans to continue doing so for at least the next five years.

    Glickman acknowledged that his caution is likely related to his traumatic experience developing Covid-19 last year, which included ongoing gastrointestinal and neurological symptoms. "There is an element of precaution that is brought on by the emotional and psychological impact with what I went through," he said. "I don't think it is necessarily unjustified. I think it is somewhere in the middle."

    Separately, George Jones, an 82-year-old retired mail carrier, said he plans to continue wearing his mask for at least another year, despite becoming fully vaccinated over a month ago. "I'm in no hurry; why should I be in a hurry?" he said.

    Jones said until more people in New York City get vaccinated—currently, according to the Times, just 40% of the city's population is fully vaccinated—he believes it's too risky to unmask. "Being around is more important. That's what counts," he said. "I'm an old man—I'd like to be around as long as I can."

    Barry Neely, a composer from Los Angeles, said he intends to wear a mask whenever he's feeling sick for the foreseeable future.

    "If I possibly spread a virus a year ago, and then learned that wearing a mask is important to prevent spreading this virus, then what's the harm in wearing it if I have the common cold?" he said.

    And Vanessa Li—an epidemiologist in Massachusetts who isn't yet two weeks' out from her second dose of a Covid-19 vaccine—told the Associated Press that she's going to keep wearing her mask, even outside, given the recent increase in travel and the spread of new coronavirus variants.

    "I guess I am hesitant to take it off because it's been such a habit and internationally there's been different strains and different risk levels," she said. "Global travel is picking up and it's still prevalent, so I'm not really sure how at risk everyone is at the moment."

    Keela Samis, an attorney from Florida who is fully vaccinated, said she doesn't plan to stop wearing a mask because it reduces how much make-up she feels she has to wear on a daily basis. "As a woman, we feel like we have to, when we go out in public, put on a little bit of makeup, eyeliner, blush," she said. "With a mask I don't have to. It simplified my life."

    Samis added, "Even if I'm the only person on planet Earth [who] continues to wear the mask, if that's what makes me feel comfortable, I'll wear the mask."

    What do experts think?

    According to the Times, even some experts are proceeding more cautiously than CDC on going maskless.

    For instance, Linsey Marr, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech, said she believes that if fully vaccinated Americans "want to be cautious, it's a good idea to continue wearing a mask in crowded indoor spaces while the vaccination rate in your community remains low and there are still a lot of cases, particularly if a lot of other people are unmasked." Doing so would "reduce the chance that you will experience a breakthrough infection," she said.

    Separately, Juliet Morrison, a virologist at the University of California Riverside, said she thought CDC was "unwise" to ease the mask guidance "so early in the vaccination campaign," when just "37% of people in the United States have been fully vaccinated." She said once the country gets to a level of vaccination that halts viral transmission, "everyone can then interact unmasked" (Nir, New York Times, 5/19; Reeves, Associated Press, 5/16; Marr et al., New York Times, 5/17).

    Is America's coronavirus future 'good,' 'bad,' or 'ugly'? It's all three.

    looking aheadSince February, Advisory Board's Brandi Greenberg has been tracking three ways the U.S. coronavirus epidemic could end: the "good," the "bad," and the "ugly." But new data, she says, has forced her to revise her expectations about what Covid-19's future will look like—for America and for the world. 

    Read the latest take

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