He has used this safety protocol for the past 14 months. It did not change after he contracted the coronavirus last November. It didn’t budge when, earlier this month, he became fully vaccinated. And even though President Biden said on Thursday that fully vaccinated people do not have to wear a mask, Glickman said he planned to stay the course. In fact, he said, he plans to do his grocery run double-masked and goggled for at least the next five years. Even as a combination of evolving public health recommendations and pandemic fatigue lead more Americans to toss the masks they’ve worn for more than a year, Glickman is among those who say they plan to keep their faces covered in public indefinitely.
For people like Glickman, a combination of anxiety, murky information about new virus variants and the emergence of an obdurate and sizable faction of vaccine holdouts means mask-free life is on hold — possibly forever. “I have no problem being one of the only people,” said Glickman, a professional photographer and musician from Albany, N.Y. “But I don’t think I’m going to be the only one.” Whether made of bedazzled cloth or polypropylene, masks have emerged as a dystopian political flash point during the pandemic. A map of states that enforced mask mandates corresponds closely with how people in those states voted for president.
Last year, protesters staged rallies against official requirements to wear masks, built pyres to burn them in protest and touched off wild screaming matches when confronted about not wearing them inside supermarkets. But as more Americans become vaccinated and virus restrictions loosen, masks are at the center of a second round in the country’s culture brawl. This time, people who choose to continue to cover their faces have become targets of public ire. In interviews, vaccinated people who continue to wear masks said they are increasingly under pressure, especially in recent days; friends and family have urged them to relax, or even have suggested that they are paranoid. On a recent trip to the grocery store, Glickman said he was stared down by a man who entered, unmasked.
“I’m confused,” the retired news anchor Dan Rather wrote on Twitter last week as backlash mounted on the platform to those still masked. “Why should people care if someone wants to wear a mask outside?” Following the latest C.D.C. guidance, at least 20 states repealed mask mandates or issued orders that gave vaccinated people exemptions from wearing masks. Other states, including New York, said they were reviewing their rules.
But for some people, no newfound freedom will persuade them to reveal their faces just yet. After a year, they say they have grown accustomed to the masks and glad for the extra safety they provide. A day after the C.D.C.’s announcement, George Jones, 82, a retired mail carrier, stood in the sunshine outside of the General Grant Houses where he lives in Harlem and said his blue surgical mask — though uncomfortable and inconvenient — would stay put for at least another year.
“I’m in no hurry; why should I be in a hurry?” said Jones, who became fully vaccinated about a month and a half ago. Until New York City reaches a higher level of vaccination — just 40 percent are completely vaccinated — he believes it’s too risky to unmask. “Being around is more important. That’s what counts. I’m an old man — I’d like to be around as long as I can.”
Public health data shows that masking and social distancing have most likely had far-reaching positive impacts, beyond slowing the spread of COVID-19. While over 34,000 adults died from influenza in the 2018-19 season, this year deaths are on track to remain in the hundreds, according to C.D.C. data.
Sarah Maslin Nir is a reporter with NYT©2021
The New York Times