For more than a year, masks have been considered an accessory more essential than bras. But now, we've finally been let off the hook: The CDC announced this afternoon that if you are fully vaccinated against Covid-19, you do not need to wear a mask — indoors or outdoors, in most places.
A few exceptions: Masks (and social distancing) are still required when in hospitals, nursing homes, prisons, jails, and homeless shelters. Ditto with public transportation and airports. The CDC also notes that local businesses and workplaces are still allowed to require masks and there are, of course, federal, state, and local laws to contend with, but still!
"We have all longed for this moment," Rochelle P. Walensky, MD, MPH, the CDC director, said at a White House news conference Thursday. "If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic."
While that's certainly the sentiment of many who are thrilled to finally (mostly) ditch their masks, others are skeptical. After all, just a few months ago, based on new research from the CDC, experts suggested double-masking as a smart precaution to keep us safe from COVID. And now it's cool to wear nothing at all!? Plus, how will we actually know if someone near us in public is truly vaccinated or not? Are we just supposed to have blind trust that everyone is doing the right thing?
While overall this is great news and a sign we're finally making strides towards returning to normalcy as we knew it, hesitancy is to be expected, says Vivek Cherian, M.D., an internal medicine physician affiliated with the University of Maryland Medical System. "As a population, we are driven by social norms, and wearing a mask has become a social norm for the most part," he tells InStyle.
And then there are the parents left wondering, so uh, what about our kids? As we reach a point where supply for the vaccines outpaces the demand, some see the announcement as a way to entice those who are hesitant about getting their shots — without much concern for the risk it will pose for children under 12 who remain ineligible.
"This should further incentivize those unvaccinated individuals that have any hesitancy to get vaccinated because now we know there is a tangible, realistic, expectation to return to a normal way of life pre-pandemic," Dr. Cherian says. But as a parent of a 3-year-old and 1-year-old? He'll be exercising caution. "Despite this being great news for vaccinated people, unvaccinated folks will remain at risk from others who are unvaccinated. Since there are no regulations currently requiring that people declare their vaccination status, I would not recommend taking unvaccinated children into large crowds or indoor events maskless."
This is all to say, some are happy, others are angry or confused, and then there are those somewhere in the middle taking more of a 'nah, I'm good for now' approach. That means there's a good chance that you'll soon be in a situation where your mom/sister/friend/co-worker falls on the opposite end of the spectrum as you. So, how should you deal?
Basically, just don't be a jerk about it. "There's absolutely nothing wrong with an individual who has a certain level for risk aversion," Dr. Anthony Fauci said at the White House news conference. "They shouldn't be criticized." (I mean, unless of course, they're an anti-vaxxer wearing a mask to protect themselves from the vaccinated.)