For Some Vaccinated People, Masks Remain Comforting

photo of virus face mask green hospital

June 25, 2021 – 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.”

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