Although fully vaccinated people no longer have to wear face masks in many situations, the comforting qualities that mask-wearing offers some people may make them think twice before ditching their face coverings entirely.
“There is a way that the mask hides your feelings,” psychotherapist Kathryn Smerling said in an interview on CBSN. “It does give you the anonymous quality that often we want and we crave.”
Fully vaccinated people can now safely go maskless while participating in most indoor and outdoor activities, regardless of size, without social distancing or worrying about the vaccination status of others around them, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Thursday. Masks are still required for air travel, mass transit, medical facilities and many businesses.
To date, more than one-third of all Americans have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the CDC reported. This week the CDC also expanded access to the Pfizer vaccine for young people aged 12 and up.
But Smerling said that after more than a year of living with pandemic protocols, many Americans have grown accustomed to wearing face masks. She predicts that the practice will last for a long time.
“The mask gives us a sense of security and makes us feel more comfortable,” Smerling said. “We can be a little bit more private and a little bit more selective in how we want to show our faces.”
She said some people appreciate that masks free them up from social niceties like smiling at others. Mask-wearing may also help reinforce a sense of community.
“I think that we have internalized [mask wearing] to make it work as a society and I think that’s what’s really important because we live within a larger realm of society,” Smerling said. “We don’t operate independently. We’re interrelated and we do have to protect other people around us.”
A poll published last week by Ipsos, a global market research company, found that more than half of Americans said they wore face masks whenever they left home, even though the CDC had recently said fully vaccinated people no longer needed masks in most outdoor settings.
President Biden said in the White House Rose Garden on Thursday that Americans should be patient towards others’ adjustment after the CDC relaxed the guidelines.
“If you’re someone with a mask —you see them, please treat them with kindness and respect,” Mr. Biden said. “We’ve had too much conflict, too much bitterness, too much anger, too much polarization of this issue about wearing masks. Let’s put it to rest.”
Smerling also advised Americans to be respectful of people’s decisions.
“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wearing a mask,” she said. “It’s all a personal comfort and I don’t believe that people should denigrate each other for either wearing a mask or not wearing a mask. It’s your own psychological safety and that has to feel comfortable for you.”