Like more than 120 million other Americans, Ian Massi has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and can almost stop wearing a mask under the latest guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But she still covers her face, even when the temperature rises in her native Alabama, because of the benefits, which she says are too great to give up.

The retired educator did not suffer from the disease caused by the new coronavirus, nor did she get the flu or colds twice a year while she was disguised during the pandemic. Unlike some, she did not receive any hostile blows in public for wearing a mask. So why give up now?

“I wore a mask where it wasn̵

7;t really needed,” said Massi, who lives in the Birmingham suburbs, on Saturday. “A lot of people, more than I expected, still are.”

With COVID-19 cases declining after more than 580,000 deaths and more than a third of the U.S. population fully vaccinated, millions are deciding whether to continue wearing face masks, which are both a shield against infection and a hotbed of political debate in the last year. People have countless reasons to decide to stop or continue wearing a mask.

Many are willing to put aside the sadness, isolation and caution of the pandemic. Rejecting face masks – even those dazzled by sequins or sports team logos – is a visible, liberating way to move forward. Still, others are still worried about new variants of the virus and the possibility that they will infect the virus and pass it on to others, although the risks of both are significantly reduced for those who are fully vaccinated.

Dennis Duckworth was among those exposed as he walked through a revived French Quarter in New Orleans, where jazz musicians and tourists returned to the streets.

“I’ve always been against masks, and I think all their rules are hypocritical and confusing,” Duckworth said during a visit to Kansas City, Missouri.

Like most others, Duckworth did not wear a face mask on an optimistic Friday that made the neighborhood feel more normal than it had months ago. Alex Bodell of Ithaca, New York, stood out in the crowd for the black mask covering his nose and face, but he was calmer that way.

“I certainly feel much more comfortable and I think I enjoy being vaccinated a lot more and I feel that, you know, regardless of my mask, that I’m covered,” he said.

The CDC said last week that fully vaccinated people – those who have passed the last dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in two weeks – can give up wearing masks outdoors in crowds and in most indoor conditions and give up social distancing. . Partially vaccinated or unvaccinated people should continue to wear masks, the agency said.

The guidelines still require masks in crowded enclosed spaces, including buses, planes, hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters. But that paves the way for the resumption of jobs, schools and other places that were darkened during the pandemic.

Without masks during an outdoor event in Fargo, North Dakota, student Andrew Codet said he was immunized and would follow CDC instructions.

“If you’ve been vaccinated and you’ve made an effort to avoid spreading the disease, it’s time to start this recovery process,” said Codet, 20. “There is nothing political about me.”

Near Boston in Cambridge, Massachusetts, epidemiologist Vanessa Lee has not passed the two-week point of her second dose of vaccine and continues to wear her mask even outside, especially when there are many other people around.

“I guess I’m hesitant to take it down because it was such a habit and there were different strains and different levels of risk internationally,” said Lee, 25, of Somerville. “Global travel is on the rise and still prevalent, so I’m not really sure how risky everyone is at the moment.”

Wearing a mask while making espresso at his cafe in San Francisco, Justin Lawrence said he had to comply with local rules that require coverings for indoor activities.

“It puts small businesses in the place of having to police people in the first place, and you can’t tell by looking at someone that they’ve been vaccinated,” said Lawrence, who co-owns Face Cafe in the mission area.

The decision to continue wearing the mask boils down to uncertainty for Evan Mandel. Both vaccinated and disguised as he waited outside to enter the Art Institute of Chicago, Mandel said he had enough questions to avoid jogging, which breathes hard and can send virus-carrying particles much further.

“I’m still holding my breath or coming down,” he said.

And then there are the rules. Andy Lamparter wore a mask at Saturday’s Preakness Stakes in Baltimore, where the Pimlico track required them in a sharply reduced crowd of 10,000, but he wasn’t very happy about that. “It’s annoying because I have pictures,” he said.

Raquel Mitchell recovered from a COVID-19 attack in December and is adamant against receiving a vaccine that she does not trust because of its rapid development. She still wears a mask and takes other precautions, such as an outdoor dinner at restaurants near her home in the East Harlem area of ​​New York and either wants plastic utensils or wears them.

When will he feel safe enough to calm down?

“I don’t know. Never,” Mitchell said. “It’s going to be really hard for me.”

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Reeves reports from Birmingham, Alabama. Associated Press reporters Stacy Plasons Jenkins in New Orleans; Stephen LeBlanc in Cambridge, Massachusetts; Don Baboon in Chicago; Andrew Taylor in Baltimore; Dave Kolpak in Fargo, North Dakota; Haven Daly in San Francisco; and Jennifer Peltz of New York contributed to this report.

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