As US lifts mask requirements for vaccinated, some not ready to give up face covering

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A day after the top US health agency eased COVID-19 mask restrictions, many people could still be seen walking around the capital Washington wearing face coverings.

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Among them was a student, Chloe, who said she was fully vaccinated -- but was wearing her black face mask anyway.

“I think the announcement... was definitely a shock to a lot of people. It definitely was a shock to me,” the student, who declined to give her last name, told AFP Friday.

Chloe, 20, viewed the CDC announcement as “hopeful” but said she plans to keep wearing her mask for a while longer.

“If I see more people not wearing masks, it’ll make me feel comfortable not wearing masks,” she said. “And then just seeing the number of people who are vaccinated in the US will definitely help. If that number goes up, I might feel more comfortable taking it off.”

But “it’s really important to recognize that the pandemic’s still going on.”

Currently, only 36 percent of people are fully vaccinated in the US, where the pandemic has killed more than 580,000.

“Yesterday, I was not really into the idea” of going maskless, said Lauren, who wore a white cloth face mask. “Even though I’m vaccinated, what if there’s some slight chance that I’m around somebody who’s sick? A non-vaccinated person?”

The 36-year-old consultant, who also chose to only give her first name, told AFP she plans to keep her mask handy when she’s out and decide whether to put it on based on a “day-to-day, even hour-to-hour feeling.”

“It has kind of become a part of our face. I feel kind of bare without it,” Lauren said, adding her mask sometimes can feel like a “security blanket.”

Health experts say it’s normal to feel anxious about returning to normal life, given how hard the last year has been.

But there is such a thing as being too careful, warns Dr. Amesh Adalja: “The science is showing that if you’re fully vaccinated, the virus is going to treat you very differently, so you can act very differently.”

Part of the problem, said Adalja, a senior scholar from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, is that the CDC was overly cautious during the pandemic and has now shocked people with what seems like a more aggressive step.

When the CDC announced Thursday that people fully vaccinated against COVID-19 no longer had to wear masks outdoors, President Joe Biden celebrated the decision, calling it a “great day” for the country hardest-hit by the pandemic.

Comedic takes flooded Twitter, but their humor belied users’ deeper-seated anxiety over the issue.

“We don’t have to wear masks anymore if we’re vaccinated but what if I’m mistaken for a republican,” another woman wrote, referring to political divisions over masks.

“This is a just a note to say that masks are like weighted face blankets and I’m keeping mine forever,” tweeted author Glennon Doyle.

According to Adalja, “people didn’t develop the ability to risk calculate.”

“There just was a lot of precautionary principles that got carried away to a point that I think it’s going to be hard for people who totally embraced all of that to jettison it,” he told AFP.

But “what value are you deriving from the vaccine if you’re not actually living your life?”

Lauren ultimately agrees: “I’m really desperate to see people’s faces again,” she said. “I want to be able to smile at people.”

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