Almost There: Why You Should Keep Wearing a Mask Just a Little Longer

Katriona Page, Senior Copy Editor

It has been a long year of mask-wearing. It is not so much the mask itself that is the problem (some masks are extremely comfortable). But the trapped breath, sweaty lower face and remembering the mask only after you have left the house is getting old.

However, don’t abandon your mask just yet. While yes, nearly 120 million Americans (or 35% of the population) are fully vaccinated, there’s still a good two-thirds to go (not to mention, a third of that population is hesitant to receive the vaccine entirely, and some older people still aren’t able to get it if they have COVID or display flu-like symptoms). We’re nowhere near herd immunity, or even widespread protection.

Additionally, the Food and Drug Administration only approved the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine for 12 to 15 year olds on May 10; no vaccine has been approved for use in anyone younger than 12. This means that the vast majority of young people are not vaccinated and still very much at risk of contracting COVID.

The likelihood of a young person becoming seriously ill due to COVID is low, but it is also not unheard of — there have been over 2,000 cases of Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (a severe inflammatory syndrome associated with COVID infections) and 30 deaths. The median age? Nine. Thus, taking off your mask endangers children and anyone else who might not have been able to get the vaccine. COVID is still very much a severe illness; scientists are not sure about its long-term effects, but, even in people who do not display symptoms, there is concerning new evidence indicating that COVID potentially causes permanent lung damage, and some victims still cannot taste or smell. 

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidance saying that fully vaccinated individuals no longer need to wear a mask in most indoor settings or outside (regardless of crowd size), Dr. Anthony Fauci has said that the public is “misinterpreting” the new guidelines, and that it was simply an “assurance to those who are vaccinated that they can feel safe, be they outdoors or indoors.” He added that many people seem to believe the guidance applies even to the unvaccinated. This can be dangerous, given that many businesses are relaxing mask mandates for the vaccinated (with many small businesses still requiring masks regardless), and since there’s currently no efficient way for businesses to determine whether a patron truly has been vaccinated, it is an honor system. Wearing a mask, even if the business does not require it and you have been vaccinated, signals respect for those who can’t get vaccinated or are especially vulnerable; it’s a basic act of consideration. 

We’re almost there. Access to the vaccine is expanding daily, more and more states are opening up and over a third of the country is already vaccinated. It would be a shame to abandon masks now and reverse the progress we have made. President Biden has set July 4 as the target date for a complete return to normalcy. What’s another month or two?