Should I keep wearing a mask even though I’m fully vaccinated?

should i keep wearing a mask covid
Photo via Mike Licht/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The CDC’s recent statement about the protection that comes with being fully vaccinated and the possibility of going without a mask in certain situations left Americans confused in the following days about what to do. The question they’re asking themselves is: “Should I keep wearing a mask even though I’m fully vaccinated?”

The answer to that question, however, is complicated. 

“A sudden loosening this week of federal health guidance on masks has handed Americans a new calculation to make,” the New York Times observed in a May 15 article. “And it isn’t just one calculation, but a maze of many. As people walked through their days, hour by hour, errand by errand, some wondered at every new doorway: Mask or no mask?” 

People surveyed in the article were mostly positive about the CDC’s new guidance, but they were also confused about the science of the decision and whether they could trust people about their vaccination status. The article also posited questions about how people will judge each other for wearing masks or not wearing masks. 

“I mean, you’re going to be depending on people being honest enough to say whether they were vaccinated or not and responsible enough to be wearing … a mask,” Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease doctor, said May 13, via USA Today

While that article floated the possibility of a “vaccine passport” to allow people to prove their vaccination status to one another, it also noted that a number of businesses have already made clear they won’t ask customers about it even if they enter those businesses unmasked. 

On May 17, Target announced it would join some other major nationwide businesses, in Walmart, Trader Joe’s, Starbucks, and Costco in dropping its mask requirement for fully vaccinated customers, though as USA Today pointed out, state and local mask-wearing requirements might still be in effect for individual stores. 

Michael McCullough, a psychology professor at the University of California, San Diego, warned that the CDC’s new guidance will allow those who are unvaccinated “to flout rules with ‘impunity.’”

“Many will lie,” he observed. “Many are lying, have been lying. In some ways, this is a really perfect recipe for lots of people to be dishonest about whether they got vaccinated. They can say, well, everyone who really is worried about it has gone out and done it, and my personal risk is low.”

CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta was critical of the announcement, ascertaining that the CDC “made a critical error here in surprising basically everyone with a very significant change.” 

He noted just days before the announcement was made, he spoke to CDC officials who told him indoor masking would likely be one of the last measures lifted because “it is so effective and it’s not that hard to do in most situations—just to put a mask on.”

An Associated Press story from May 16 asserted that some Americans aren’t yet ready to go without masks—finding the occasional masked face in a New Orleans French Quarter crowd to make the point. 

“I certainly feel a lot more comfortable,” said tourist Alex Bodell, “and I think I’m enjoying myself a lot more here being fully vaccinated and feeling that, you know, kind of regardless of my mask that I’m covered.” 

Boston-area resident Vanessa Li, not yet two weeks past her second vaccination dose, also is choosing to wear a mask in large part because of uncertainty in other parts of the world. 

“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 pointed out. “Global travel is picking up and it’s still prevalent, so I’m not really sure how at risk everyone is at the moment.”

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Sources: New York Times, USA Today [1] [2], CNN, Associated Press

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