Since late February, mask mandates across the country began to lift, leaving Americans with the option to decide for themselves when, where, and how often they would wear their masks while in indoor public places.
This new shift in protocol can feel a bit awkward for many people who have come to embrace daily mask usage since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic two years ago. Masks have served as an intervention to slow the spread of COVID-19, with studies having shown that when mask mandates were implemented, cases of the virus fell. In that time, we’ve looked to state governments and local businesses to determine mask usage, but now that decision has been left in our hands.
With societal pressures changing with every new variant and outbreak update, you too might be on the fence about where you stand when it comes to going back to a fully “normal,” mask-less lifestyle. I can certainly understand.
When news of COVID-19 began to pick up in March of 2020, I was living in Los Angeles, busy finalizing RSVPs for my birthday brunch. Soon after, news of a looming citywide shutdown was on the horizon. Once my birthday came, there was a dismal feeling in the air, one that warned of the change in the “normality” that we would all be experiencing for the last time. Twenty-four hours later, the city was closed.
At the time, the learning curve for masks was a bit steep for many of us, as we navigated this new foreign object on our faces that was now a requirement for the unforeseen future. From DIY-ing face coverings to figuring out if the blue side or white side belonged on the outside, coming to grips with the mask mandate in a city like Los Angeles was a challenge; but it soon became a way of life.
Eventually, my time in Los Angeles ended, leading me back to my home state of South Carolina. It goes without saying that it was a culture shock to see how the South operates under the pandemic compared to the West Coast. Going from living in a city that was heavily impacted by the virus, thus requiring the initial mandates, closures, and shutdowns, to a town that operated from a place of self-governance and laissez-faire took more than a few months to adjust to.
Nevertheless, with my experience between both extremes, I’m finding that the lift in the mask mandates has granted an opportunity to reimagine what a life with masks, or without one, may look like. So, before you ditch your face coverings completely, here are a few things to consider when deciding what is best for you:
Be conscious of high-risk environments.
As we look forward to warmer weather on the horizon, we’ll naturally be drawn outdoors to enjoy festivals, brunches, and social gatherings, putting many of us back in close proximity to others. For those occasions, it is recommended that while in crowded settings such as restaurants, theaters, and concerts, masks are worn to protect yourself and others while in close quarters. For public transportation like buses, airplanes, subways, and ridesharing services like Uber, it’s suggested that face coverings are worn due to the confined conditions and extended time spent in these spaces.
Masks can help with social anxiety too.
As someone who experiences moments of social awkwardness, masks became a protective shield against the virus, and sometimes, social interactions that were out of my comfort zone. Whether sharing welcoming grins when passing others or making small talk with a stranger in line, face-covering put a halt to those small, but humanizing interactions. Now that there’s more flexibility in when you decide to wear a mask or not, you can also decide if you’re open to sharing a few smiles or would rather mask up and keep to yourself.
Be considerate of the elderly, immunocompromised and small children.
From those with preexisting medical conditions, to adults over the age of 65, and children under the age of five, it’s important to consider those who are at a higher risk of contracting the virus. While the majority of the population may have the option of not wearing their mask regularly because they are vaccinated and/or boosted, those in the aforementioned groups should be given special consideration. From picking up children from daycare to visiting your grandmother, be sure to keep a mask handy.
Don’t let others peer pressure you, either way.
Sometimes when you’re out with others, we can feel the pressure to be on the same wavelength when it comes to perspective and social norms, but when it comes to your health and even your newfound personal freedoms, it’s completely up to you to decide what feels right for you and your health. Whether you feel like the odd one out because you’re the only one with a mask on, or because you’re the only one without, at the end of the day, it’s up to you to determine your comfortability and what risks you are and aren’t willing to take within our new, optional mask world.