For Some Vaccinated People, Masks Remain Comforting

Dejania Oliver

June 25, 2021

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

When the CDC announced in May that fully vaccinated Americans can largely ditch their masks, many of us were eager to shed those familiar pieces of cloth we had been wearing for more than a year.

And yet, it seems some people are not ready to let it go.

The CDC said in May that people who are fully vaccinated can resume activities without wearing a mask or staying 6 feet apart, with a few exceptions. The announcement caused a shift in attitudes towards masks, with many fearful of taking them off.

"To some degree, it makes sense to have this fear and anxiety because this is what we have lived with for the past year," Felix Torres, MD, chief of forensic medicine at Texas Health and Human Services, says. "It's been deeply ingrained within us to have these precautions in place. So, there are some people who will likely hold on to those precautions."

While more than 150 million Americans are fully vaccinated, many are still fearful of the unknown when it comes to COVID-19. More than 4 in 10 Americans (41%) say they are more anxious than last year. Young adults, ages 18 to 29 (49%), and Hispanic/Latinos (50%) are also more likely to say they are more anxious now.

While masks proved to be important early on, they were not always popular nor recommended. Georges Benjamin, MD, executive director of the American Public Health Association, says the politicization of masks, testing program failures and lack of communication led to an uncomfortable situation.

"A lot of people weren't comfortable wearing masks," Benjamin says. "We're not a mask-wearing culture. So, it was a both a behavior and a cultural shift for people."

Another reason fully vaccinated people are still holding on to masks is because they still do not feel safe. Herd immunity has been the country's goal to significantly improve the chances of the coronavirus becoming an outbreak again. However, America is nowhere near that number.

"If you are in Vermont, 70% of the people are vaccinated. So, the odds are 70% of the time you are going to walk into somebody who has been vaccinated," Benjamin says. "Now, we think to get effective herd immunity it's somewhere around 80%. So even there [Vermont], the likelihood of being exposed to someone is higher. So, the answer is no, we're not dealing with anything close to herd immunity."

Mask or No Mask?

Since the CDC announcement, fully vaccinated people have debated whether they will continue to wear a mask. While some were glad to take it off, others were not so eager

"Wearing a mask is the norm now and makes me feel protected since I can still get it," Xeila Rosa, mother of a 1-year-old, says. "There are still a lot of unvaccinated people and I want to protect myself and my family. Slowly but surely, I'll feel better about it."

This feeling is common in this phase of the pandemic, and it is causing another cultural shift in our society. In the beginning, people may have been judged for not wearing a mask because they were helping the spread of the virus. Now we are seeing people judged for wearing one as it can be an indicator for someone not being vaccinated. As masks start to go away, people are beginning to form their own ideas surrounding what protection from this virus means.

"We just have to make sure that we put ourselves in the shoes of the other person," Torres says. "We need to understand that there are people who are going to have different levels of comfort."

For others, it is simply because they are used to masks. For over a year, we have worn one and now it feels strange to some people to just get rid of them.

"I just feel weird not having it on and its convenient in some ways," Ayiesha Cade, a recent college graduate, says. "I'm used to it, so I don't feel the need to take it off yet."

However, there are fully vaccinated people who are more than glad to be able to go in public mask-gtrr. Many are ready for in person interactions again and are ready to go back to pre-pandemic life. The first step to get there for them is getting rid of the need for PPE.

"I was honestly ready to take off the mask and go outside," Florida A&M University senior Anjonai Bruno says. "I only wear them in stores and at work. I never feel anxious when I don't wear one."


News release, APA

Georges Benjamin, MD, executive director, APHA.

Felix Torres, MD, MBA, DFAPA, chief of forensic medicine, Texas Health and Human Services.

Twitter: @jenniferwolk10, June 15, 2021.

Twitter: @ztsamudzi, June 22, 2021.