CHICAGO — For Americans whose bare faces had scarcely been seen in public for a year, there were suddenly options. Would they leave the mask behind for a jog? What about the coffee shop? What about the neighbor’s house? The office?
A sudden loosening this week of federal health guidance on masks has handed Americans a new calculation to make. 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?
In interviews this weekend with dozens of residents from Los Angeles to Atlanta, people said they were mostly encouraged by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s finding that masks were no longer needed for fully vaccinated people in most indoor and outdoor situations.
But the details, many said, were perplexing, and had stirred new questions about science, but also about trust, social norms and even politics. How can one be certain that people no longer wearing masks have actually gotten a vaccine? What will the neighbors think if you take yours off? (And what will they think if you don’t?) And what if, some asked, you just feel more comfortable in a mask?
abrupt shift in guidance — noting that the agency’s position on masks has shifted before — and wondered aloud whether the latest turn was really safe.
Gerry Corn, 56, who was picking up food to-go on Friday night in Los Angeles, said he had concerns about how long vaccine protection would last. “I’m thinking that until we really know more about it from empirical scientific evidence, that we should keep the mask in place, especially in public,” he said.
mask mandate expired a day earlier. “It’s just so normal now that I feel weird walking places without a mask,” she said.
Inertia, too, is a force. A few people said they had gotten used to masks and had come to (almost) like their presence — as a fashion accessory, a protection against common colds, a chance for anonymity along the street. Some people said they just needed more time to get used to the idea of a switchback.
“They didn’t say ‘in a couple of weeks.’ If they had, I could have stomached it more,” said Jill Roberts, who co-owns a wine bar in downtown Helena, Mont. “It came out of left field.”