A “Return to Normal”? What the New COVID-19 Mask Guidance Means for You

For over a year now, Americans have been advised to wear masks in order to protect themselves and their loved ones from the spread of COVID-19. Effective May 13, 2021, the Biden Administration announced that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) would no longer be recommending that fully vaccinated individuals need to wear a mask. The announcement, while a major milestone, was unanticipated and the shift sudden, leaving many Americans blindsided by and conflicted about the change, as they weigh the risk of going maskless or not.

Many Americans feel reluctant to stop wearing masks at this time, even if they are fully vaccinated, and this is fair. New information on SARS-CoV-2 variants, combined with the large amount of Americans who have yet to be fully vaccinated leaves many wanting to continue wearing masks – and we haven’t even touched on the lingering pandemic anxiety and trauma. 

As vaccine hesitancy remains high, and as we adapt to this new guidance, many are also wondering how we confirm that persons not wearing masks are truly fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The recent memory of some being consistently reluctant to wear masks, reminds many that there is no guarantee that unvaccinated persons will appropriately abide by the new mask guidance. 

If you are more confident wearing a mask at this time, you are not alone in this feeling – domestically or even abroad. Across the world, it is normal to practice regular mask wearing in higher risk situations. For example, in other countries, it’s common practice to wear a mask in busy places, during flu season, or when you’re feeling unwell.

The bottom line: COVID-19 continues to impact Americans every day, bringing uncertainty about our new sense of “normal”. Data still supports that wearing masks and social distancing contribute to slowing the spread of COVID-19. If you are not fully vaccinated (two weeks has passed since your final shot) or you live with people who are high-risk to COVID-19 complications, it is advised that you continue wearing a mask. It is also important to still keep a mask on-hand because public places, such as workplaces, private businesses, and forms of public transportation may still maintain mask requirements.

If you are experiencing anxiety as we slowly “return to normal,” there are resources available to help you cope: