The United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US-CDC) and the POTUS say that, as a fully vaccinated person, I may stop wearing masks in public.
Guess what? I’m still mask up other people.
Am I certain it’s necessary? No. But it’s low cost. I already have double-layered masks which are as comfortable as t-shirts, seal well, are easy to wash, and look pretty. As long as coronavirus deaths per year in California exceed flu deaths in California during a typical flu season, I’m masking up. It’s the last pandemic habit I’ll drop. If I have doubts, I’ll err on the side of wearing masks. I’ll ditch physical distancing rules before I give up masks.
I don’t mind people running outside or riding bicycles without masks, even if they aren’t vaccinated. Outdoor runners/cyclists pass other people too quickly to spread coronavirus. Some people can’t use masks for medical/health/disability reasons. Otherwise, we should keep using masks.
When even t-shirts are uncomfortable, I might take off my mask outdoors when I’m far from others. That’s it.
Why I Keep Using a Mask:
- No vaccine is 100% effective. Therefore, we should not 100% rely on vaccines. We should complement vaccines with low-cost interventions (masks!) which reduce coronavirus spread even more than vaccines alone.
- More variants are popping up. Maybe no variant will escape the vaccines, but if a variant escapes, we probably won’t find out until it’s too late. Therefore, we should pre-emptively use low-cost interventions, such as MASKS.
- Because the US-CDC has stopped reporting vaccine-breakthrough covid infections which don’t cause hospitalization or death, it’s going to take even longer for the public to learn about variants which may have escaped the vaccines, especially if those variants evolve within the United States. Therefore, masks.
- A study shows that antibodies against COVID-19 are no longer detectable 6-8 months after the second dose of the Moderna vaccine. Other coronavirus vaccines are probably no better. T-cell and B-cell immunity might last over 8 months, but I wouldn’t bet anybody’s health on that. Also, rather than falling off a cliff, antibody levels seem to go down gradually over the 6-8 months after the second dose. Booster shots may come, but I don’t want to bet anybody’s health on those either. Therefore, masks.
When people talk about how horribly uncomfortable masks are… I wonder whether they just haven’t found the right one. Having used cloth masks even before the pandemic, I had some idea of what works for me. Most people around here wear cloth masks I would hate to wear for long periods of time (elastic bands around the ears, crappy fabric, bad fit, etc.) My mother wears an uncomfortable N95 for extra protection (she only leaves home for short periods of time). My father wears masks with elastic bands and bad fit. I’ve offered to help them find more comfortable masks (my mother claims that cloth masks are also uncomfortable and thus she might as well wear an N95) and they refused. Finding a mask which fits me well isn’t as hard as finding the right shoe… but it’s more challenging than finding a comfy t-shirt. I wish there was more public education about this.
The last time I bought masks, I paid 30 USD per mask. No, I’m not kidding. Paying more for masks which meet all my standards is worth it. I have yet to find a 5 USD cloth mask which suits my (fussy) preferences.
Yes, masks cause social problems. We miss some social cues when we don’t see the lower half of the face. We can’t eat and drink communally with masks on. Many masks are downright ugly (I am so, so, so tired of seeing surgical masks). However, many cultures have adapted to widespread facial coverings, so it’s doable.
Surgical masks harm the environment. So many masks (mostly surgical masks, but also some cloth masks) litter the streets. Manufacturing surgical masks causes even more environmental damange. That’s why I urge people who aren’t healthcare workers to wear re-usable cloth masks.
All that said, masks cost practically nothing compared to any other scalable intervention to stop COVID-19.
The recent political rhetoric suggesting that ditching masks is a ‘reward’ for vaccination disturbs me. Using masks as a stick to strike unvaccinated people sends the message that masks are a punishment.
What about the next time we need masks?
Masks slow down the spread of the flu. Maybe we should wear masks more often in flu season. I’m opposed to imposing a mask mandate just for flu season, but encouraging people to wear masks during flu seasons will probably save lives.
What about the next pandemic caused by a respiratory infection? What if we get Mutant Measles, which kills 1 in 20 infected people and escapes the measles vaccine BUT widespread mask usage significantly slows its spread? I’m not sure cloth masks do much against ordinary measles, but since Mutant Measles would have to be substantially different to escape the vaccine, it might also be less capable of getting through cloth.
Public leaders should not treat masks like a punishment for misbehavior. Or as a restriction on freedom. Instead, they should present cloth masks as being as easy to wear as shoes.
When I moved to Taiwan a decade ago and saw lots of people wearing surgical masks, I thought it was weird. Now I get it. We should imitate East Asian societies and normalize mask-wearing.