By Leigh Weingus
There’s no question that things are starting to feel (mostly) normal, and that’s something to celebrate. We’re enjoying outdoor barbecues, hugging our fully-vaccinated friends, and going out to eat inside inside at restaurants — all without face masks.
At the same time, the guidelines around when we’re supposed to wear face masks are still very unclear. And the emergence of the highly contagious Delta variant has only made the situation more confusing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says it’s safe for the fully-vaccinated to go mask-free, while the World Health Organization (WHO) urges everyone to wear face masks indoors.
We spoke with experts about what to know — and how you might be feeling.
Should you still wear face masks inside?
You’re strolling down the aisles of your local Trader Joe’s mask-free, when you suddenly wonder: Wait, is this actually safe? Here’s what to consider.
Are you vaccinated?
Based on the research we have so far, all signs point to the Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines offering solid protection against the variants.
But, those who are vaccinated are still vulnerable to infection. If you are not fully vaccinated, it is still incredibly important to mask up when you’re outside your home, says Dr. William Li, MD. This is especially true light of the highly contagious Delta variant.
Where are you?
While the Covid-19 vaccines are highly effective, you’ll still want to take into consider where you are. If the vaccination rate is low or the infection rate is high, think about masking up.
“If you live in or are traveling to a region where there is a low vaccination rate, the chances of encountering someone who might have COVID are higher,” explains Dr. Li. “In these situations, it is wise to wear a mask in all public indoor settings.”
Is a face mask required?
Regardless of where you are, there are still some businesses that require face masks, egardless of vaccination status. Many public transportation systems (including airplanes) and doctor’s offices require it, too. Even if you feel comfortable without a mask, it’s important to abide by these guidelines.
How are you feeling?
It’s been a traumatic 16 months, to say the least—and you may still feel a little shaky about the prospect of taking your mask off inside. Stephanie Ganor, MHC-LP and therapist at Humantold, encourages anyone feeling like this to be gentle with themselves. There’s nothing wrong with continuing to wear a mask.
“What I think is crucial to understand is that we all have different levels of tolerance when it comes to managing the discomfort and anxiety produced by the unknown or, in this case, potentially life-threatening circumstances,” she explains. “Normalizing this anxiety and fear while remembering that it is our body and our choice to continue wearing a mask will be important for those concerned about potential judgement.”
She adds that the decision to continue wearing a mask, even when others may not be, does not harm anyone by any means. “It is actually not only protecting yourself but also protecting those around you,” she says.
And if you’re still feeling anxious in general about the Covid-19 pandemic in general, that’s OK, too. “The Covid-19 pandemic has taken away a lot of our control in various aspects of our lives, if we can find subtle ways to regain that sense of agency in our life again and where we can experience moments of safety and peace, we can better manage our anxiety and build more tolerance to this unavoidable discomfort,” Ganor says.
Do you have a summer cold?
If you have a summer cold, you might worry about being judged for taking off your mask. Our advice? Be vocal. It will make everyone feel more comfortable, including you.