Since the beginning of COVID-19, wearing a mask has been the most effective way to keep yourself and others safe. Yet with the introduction of the COVID-19 vaccine, we can finally leave our masks at home. On May 16, 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced, “Fully vaccinated people can resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.” The announcement was sudden and even caught the White House off guard. Society has been pushing the use of masks, even multiple masks in some cases, for over a year and a half. Are we ready to go maskless? Are you ready to go maskless?

Are you vaccinated? Is the vaccine effective? Is the vaccine safe?

There are currently three different COVID-19 vaccines available in the United States: Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson. The first step to going maskless is to get fully vaccinated. What does “fully vaccinated” mean?

To be considered fully vaccinated, you must be two weeks out from your final COVID-19 shot. If you get Pfizer or Moderna, this is 14 days after your second dose and 14 days after the first and only dose of Johnson & Johnson. So, do these vaccines work? Are they effective? According to the CDC, “all COVID-19 vaccines currently available in the United States are effective at preventing COVID-19 as seen in clinical trial settings.”

Through mRNA, the COVID-19 vaccines are able to offer protection in real-world conditions. Additionally, no vaccine (COVID-19 or not) is 100% effective. This means that even though you are fully vaccinated, you can still contract the virus. The next question you might ask yourself is, “Is the vaccine safe?” From December 14, 2020 to June 22, 2021, over 318 million COVID-19 shots have been given out in the United States.

From the CDC website, “COVID-19 vaccines were evaluated in tens of thousands of participants in clinical trials. The vaccines met the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) rigorous scientific standards for safety, effectiveness, and manufacturing quality needed to support emergency use authorization (EUA).”

Also, the FDA continues to test its two-year standard trials to authorize the vaccine outside of the emergency use category. Thus, the vaccines are safe, effective and allow you to go maskless.

 What is my state/city saying? Where am I going/doing?

The next question I ask myself to determine if I need to bring and wear my mask with me is, “What are my state/city regulations?” and “Where am I going/what am I doing?” Every state and city faces a different situation. State and city leaders are forced to consider population density, number of cases and number of deaths when they determine their local rules and restrictions. For some states like Texas, who got rid of the mask mandate weeks before the CDC announcement, nothing changed.

Many other states like Connecticut, Illinois, Kentucky, Minnesota, Nevada, Oregon, and Pennsylvania started to adjust their guidelines. Other governors, such as Gavin Newsom from California, stated the outdoor mask mandate would be removed on June 15, being the date the state is scheduled to fully reopen.

It is important to continue to follow local restrictions and mandates even if you are fully vaccinated. If you live in an area where you can go maskless, you still need to consider what you are doing and where you are going. Many companies have not eased on restrictions, so carrying a mask with you is good practice in case you need to put it on. Some areas that will still require a mask include the grocery store, public transportation, and inside gym/fitness centers.

Personally, I am considered an essential worker and I have to go into the office every day. My company has not yet removed the mask mandate at work; thus, when I am going into work, even though I am fully vaccinated, I must have my mask. Knowing your local restrictions and considering where you are going and what you are doing are two very important questions you need to ask yourself before going maskless.

Are you mentally ready to go maskless?

Grabbing your mask before you head out almost seems like second nature now. I have all my masks hanging next to my car keys next to my door. After wearing masks for over a year and a half, the sudden stop can seem…weird and naked. This is normal. For 15 months, we have been told to wear a mask, socially distance, and wash our hands repeatedly. The reality is that COVID-19 killed thousands of people, and a mask is one way to help slow the spread.

A mask can help reduce risk even if you are vaccinated. It can give you peace of mind. In fact, a study found that the odds of feeling anxious were 58% lower among those who always wore their masks. If you are nervous about contracting and spreading COVID-19, even if you are vaccinated, a mask can help reduce that stress. The study also showed that wearing a mask, when coupled with adherence to face-covering guidelines, had no association with poorer mental health.

Mental health disorders have increased since COVID-19 due to the sickness, death, social distancing and economic shutdown. The mask helped humanity get back to normal. Cases went down, allowing people to visit with family and friends and stores to reopen. The mask has represented hope, progress and a light at the end of the tunnel. Everyone is going to have a different mental attachment to the mask because of this, and everyone will have different considerations when determining if they are mentally ready to go maskless.

Life is slowly returning to normal. The vaccine has made it possible for the mask to go out of style. Asking yourself some of these important questions is key to ensure a safe transition to a post COVID-19 world. So, are you ready to go maskless?

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