Why I’m still hesitant to break up with my mask

New CDC mask guidelines raise questions about whether we can truly trust one another.


Photo Courtesy / Getty Images Alberto Gonzalez

As I go to take a sip of water from the comfort of my home, I still find myself reaching to pull down a phantom mask — it’s a habit that’s still ingrained in me despite the CDC’s announcement on May 13 informing fully vaccinated people that they have the option to remove their masks in nearly all settings.

At a time when over 40% of the American population is considered fully vaccinated and a return to normal looms in sight, this progress is now up against an “honor system.” Working in retail, going to the gym and doing other daily activities have changed over the course of mere days in my life. From reminding customers to wear their masks to reminding myself that it is now their “choice,” I can’t seem to let go of the only protection I had for an entire year.

Is it possible to trust one another when it feels like just yesterday I was wearing two masks and Lysol wipes were flying off the shelves?

This major change comes with the dawn of summer, giving hope to many who wish to host summer barbeques this Independence Day or see their extended family for the first time in months. Like the majority of society, I’m ready to see loved ones again and celebrate the holidays that we weren’t able to in 2020. While I now feel safe taking off my mask in the presence of other vaccinated individuals in small gatherings, I struggle to remove it in public, indoor settings. 

After all, it is frustrating to be told that we must adhere to strict health practices for months on end, only to culminate in a hasty and confusing few weeks of interpreting whether we are truly safe. Not to mention the minimal time allocated to states and businesses to compose a structured response to this, leaving many in the dark about proper mask-wearing procedures. 

Only days after the announcement, visiting establishments that accepted the CDC’s relaxed policies was strange to say the least. At my local gym, I can count the number of people wearing a mask with a single hand. Common sense would agree that removing any obstruction to breathing would be greatest in fitness centers. However, I don’t find the mask to hinder my performance. In a space where people are constantly moving to different areas of the gym, the risk of any virus spreading is particularly high whether it be through shared surfaces or droplets from heavy breathing. It is difficult not to feel uncomfortable when fitness centers have relaxed nearly all precautionary measures outside of social distancing (which is rarely monitored anyway). COVID-19 aside, the gym is an environment that is comparable to a petri dish with all of the potential opportunities for sharing germs. 

Besides having to endure the moderate side effects from my second dose of the Moderna vaccine, a pleasant consequence of wearing a mask was not contracting the common cold or flu this year on top of avoiding COVID-19. If we can take measures to remain healthy year round, then what is the rush to remove this protection?

In lieu of not being able to check someone else’s vaccination card, I will continue to wear my mask when I’m uncomfortable. I can only imagine the people who couldn’t handle wearing a mask above their nose now taking advantage of the lifted guidelines. It is not truly an “honor system” if there was disregard for it in the first place. 

With this in mind, consider the boundaries that others may have even if you know they are fully vaccinated. For all of the phases endured to reopen every school, business and facet of pre-pandemic life, it would only make sense for breaking up with our masks to be just as gradual.