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Are Face Masks Here To Stay?

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The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention states that those who are fully vaccinated can forego wearing a mask except when required by law or other regulations. The World Health Organization recommends that everyone wears a mask regardless of their vaccination status. A Northern Illinois University psychology professor says some people are just perplexed.

“Part of the complexity right now is that when we're not sure what to do, one of the clues that we use is we look around to see what other people are doing,” says Brad Sagarin. “And at the moment, we look around and see some people with masks some people without masks, and that gives us a pretty confusing mixed message.”

John Jensen, who is fully vaccinated, said continuing to wear a mask, in certain settings is not about him.

“But I think it's a courtesy that I can offer to the people around me. And so yeah, I was sitting here without it when there are people at a distance but I'm happy to put it on for other people in the in the world," he said.

Sagarin said deciding to wear or not to wear a mask isn’t that simple. He notes that the actions of some people last year have shown that mask wearing symbolizes other things.

“So, it's not just a health decision. It's a statement of somebody's politics,” Sagarin added. “It's a statement about somebody's perception of freedom, that health policy and that sort of thing. And that makes the decision of whether or not to wear masks very, very complicated.”

Sagarin suggests that some people may also find it hard to take their masks off because they are not sure if other people, who are not wearing a mask, have been vaccinated.

Jensen admitted that this is also something that bothers him.

“I guess I'll confess to being slightly annoyed by the folks who probably aren't vaccinated," Jensen said, "but because no one was going to check that they've taken their masks already.”

Mask wearing wasn’t the norm for most people prior to COVID-19. However, Sagarin said it may be something we continue to see after things settle down.

“If people make the decision that they'd like to protect themselves by continuing to wear a mask,” he said, “I do think that this last year has made that a lot more socially acceptable in this country.”

Not only did masks help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, but they also contributed to the reduction of another respiratory disease. Data from the CDC states that influenza activity decreased. The weekly interseasonal circulation median from May until August last year was .20% compared to 2.35% in 2019. Sagarin said if someone is sick, it will be the most crucial time to cover their nose and mouth.

“And you know what I understand and respect that as a health decision that people can make for themselves,” he said.

Sagarin already pointed out that people look to others to decide what to do, but larger groups have more influence.

“And one of the things that I definitely recommend is that organizations and businesses have clear guidelines,” he said, “and communicate those guidelines for mask wearing because that can remove a lot of the uncertainty and make it a lot easier for people to make decisions about whether or not to wear a mask.”

Sagarin said despite confusion, individuals should continue to do what’s comfortable for them and their family.

  • Yvonne Boose is a current corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project. It's a national service program that places talented journalists in local newsrooms like WNIJ. You can learn more about Report for America at wnij.org.