“I’ll probably wear my mask and avoid shaking hands for a long time,” he says.
This is a difficult time for Soto and many other pandemic-weary Americans. Vaccinated people appear after 14 months of social isolation in a world where key questions remain about where and when to wear a mask.
Has this masked man near me been vaccinated? If I don’t wear a mask, am I setting a bad example or worrying others?
The pandemic trauma heightened fears of going out without a mask
Discrepancies between state and local rules increase confusion.
In Texas, Soto may choose to stay without masks. Governor Greg Abbott rescinded the state mandate in March, allowing businesses to reopen at full capacity. But even with his boosted immune system, Soto plans to continue wearing the mask in public, with or without crowds.
“I’ll admit that I’m afraid of being judged by people who are less concerned about me. That makes me not want to wear the mask so I can avoid looks and judgments,” he told CNN. “But I’m just going to have to go through this because my health and the health of my family is more important.”
Health experts say such concerns are the result of a year-long pandemic trauma.
Even in a post-pandemic world, some people will experience fear, confusion, and anxiety, says Dr. Hector Colon-Rivera, president of the Spanish group of the American Psychiatric Association.
Some people find it difficult to put on their face masks, an object they have linked for months to saving lives, he told CNN. Those who have lost loved ones to the coronavirus may have a particularly difficult time.
“It’s like suffering from a form of PTSD or trauma that will make some people over-vigilant,” says Colon-Rivera.
Some Americans remain concerned about the options
With all the fear and uncertainty, keeping a mask for now just makes sense for some people.
Lexi Little, a student at the University of Georgia, is fully vaccinated and eager to spend time with her family. But although the self-described “man” is looking forward to the time when he can see smiles again, she will continue to wear her mask when she is around crowds and unvaccinated people for a while.
“I want to protect others around me from potentially getting the virus,” she said. “Science continues to evolve around the spread of those who have already been vaccinated, so I’m waiting for more clarification before removing the mask in everyday life outside my bubble.”
“The options continue to pose a threat as researchers study their prevalence, but I was encouraged by recent findings about the effectiveness of the vaccine against options B.1.351 and B.1.1.7,” she told CNN.
The options may help explain why, despite the apparent effectiveness of vaccines, fears of catching the virus do not go away.
Others will hold a mask to protect children
Emily Rivera just took her picture of Johnson and Johnson this week. The resident of Centerville, Virginia, will continue to follow the CDC’s recommendations for wearing masks indoors. But she also plans to continue wearing her mask in public long after the pandemic is announced – in part to protect her four children.
“It’s such a habit and it definitely helped with the flu and cold season,” she told CNN. “I’m not sure I’ll believe we’ve overcome the pandemic for a while anyway.”
Rivera says she was not a fan of wearing masks at first and found them claustrophobic. But she is more used to them and believes they have made her family less painful this year.
“And it’s definitely warmer to walk,” she says.
El McKenna of Oakland, California, is fully vaccinated, but plans to wear a mask in public and outdoors with many people.
“Vaccines work very effectively, but not everyone is vaccinated, community transmission is still happening and children still can’t be vaccinated,” McKenna said.
“We need to set a good example for others and work together to minimize transmission as much as possible.”
Even after the coronavirus is no longer a risk, McKenna plans to continue wearing a mask to protect against the flu and similar viruses, which can be risky for people with weakened immune systems.
The pandemic has made some people more hermophobic
Despite the abolition of mask mandates, many Americans may be reluctant to go without masks because they are at risk for other respiratory illnesses or simply afraid of germs, says one expert.
“Changing routines can be the most challenging,” he told CNN.
Public health authorities have documented a significant drop in flu cases since people began wearing masks in the pandemic, he said.
“The pandemic has certainly brought the value of good daily practices in personal hygiene and their benefits … against (disease).”
So for now, many Americans will be wary of caution.