Over the past seventeen months, my opinion on certain virus-related issues has changed from time to time based on new developments, new information, and new experiences I’ve had. For instance, I originally was vaccine-hesitant but later changed my mind on that and was gratefully vaccinated in April of this year. And very early on in the pandemic, I wondered about mask effectiveness but both scientific and anecdotal evidence led me to fully support the use of masks to greatly limit virus transmission.
Do I love wearing a mask? Well, no—who does? But I will absolutely wear one when asked to, when others would prefer me to, or when I feel more comfortable doing so. It honestly is not a big deal to me to do any of this.
Even now. Even though I’m vaccinated.
A few months ago, the highly contagious Delta variant began ramping up considerably, and we’ve also learned that vaccinated people can still transmit the virus. Now, in August, Delta is no longer just banging on the proverbial door but is in the house, affecting more of my friends and relatives than I could have imagined. That’s more people—real-life people, not statistical people—who are catching COVID, getting very sick, and staying sick for a long time.
All of that brings me to a question that I know some people have wondered about, and one that I’ve asked myself over the past few weeks. I think it’s a fair question:
“If you’re vaccinated, why do you still wear a mask?”
In my particular county, elected officials are arguing, flip-flopping, and even suing each other over whether or not masks should be required, and the recommendations of frontline medical professionals are largely ignored. So it’s a personal choice, for the time being, at least. I’ve thought a lot lately about why I’m wearing a mask again, and here are my reasons, along with a few ideas as to why others may be doing this, as well.
A (mostly) non-reason: I’m not terribly concerned about getting sick, being hospitalized, or dying from COVID. After all, I’ve been vaccinated and obviously I believe in the efficacy of the vaccines. But there have been breakthrough cases (because no vaccines are 100% effective on 100% of the population) among vaccinated people, and COVID is a virus that I do not want in my body. I’ve seen enough of what it’s done to friends and family to know that I want to avoid it. But personal worry about COVID isn’t my primary reason for continuing to wear a mask or take other cautionary measures.
A very important reason: I’m acutely aware that some people are not able to be vaccinated—those with serious health issues that preclude it and, currently, every human being under the age of 12. That includes my granddaughter and every other child I come into contact with, as well as some adults who are complete strangers to me. There is also a large group of unvaccinated people who have chosen, at least for now, to remain unvaccinated. The Delta variant that is currently flooding our communities (some more than others, and mine is one) is much more contagious than 2020’s variant, and even though I’m vaccinated, I can be a carrier without even knowing it. By wearing a mask, I can help protect others.
Another reason: When we choose to wear a mask, we can put people at ease who may feel uncomfortable about “whether to mask or not.” Local, state, and national governments have offered conflicting advice on masks and tempers flare whenever discussions take place. But many people feel more comfortable, for whatever reason, wearing a mask. If I’m wearing one indoors, in a crowded room, in a retail establishment, in any situation where it’s “optional,” I can literally see and feel the relief of those who are in the same boat—people who want to wear a mask but also don’t want to feel ostracized or out of place. Sending a message that it’s “okay” to wear a mask can make a difference to a person who may be on the fence, and I’m fine being someone who can help do that.
A final reason: This one is about intuition and personal comfort. After more than a year and a half of see-sawing public guidelines, a new and more contagious variant, and more friends and family being adversely affected by COVID, mask-wearing to me has become more a reflexive matter of intuition than a decision I struggle with every time I leave the house. I keep one with me, and depending on where I go, I will probably wear it when indoors. I wear it for those I’m with, I wear it for complete strangers, and I wear it for myself. I wear it for peace of mind. It’s a small piece of cloth and a small decision in my life.
I’ve heard other reasons from people who are vaccinated and who continue to wear a mask: being in frequent, close contact with children or individuals who can’t be vaccinated (students, patients, family members), some of whom are at high risk for more severe cases of and complications from COVID. Or having personal health issues that leave them with doubts over the efficacy of their own vaccine. Or noticing that they haven’t had even a cold since 2019 and wanting to keep that trend going. Or enjoying being able to privately talk to themselves or sing under their breath. Or, literally, forgetting they have it on.
“If you’re vaccinated, why do you still wear a mask?” is a fair and legitimate question. There are a multitude of answers, as many answers as there are people who are choosing to remain masked, at least for the time being.