A World Without Masks: Are We Ready?

By Laetitia Clayton

Laetitia Clayton

On a recent trip to Costco, I was greeted by a huge sign at the entrance that said face coverings were no longer required for those who had been fully vaccinated. I had gotten my second shot about a month before and had just seen a PBS NewsHour interview with CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, who talked about why the CDC decided to ease the mask recommendation. She said COVID-19 cases are down, vaccines are readily available, and the science is finally where it should be. President Biden has said much the same thing, and has been appearing maskless in public.

I hesitated at the entrance to Costco, but decided to take the plunge. I took off my mask and entered the store. It was … weird. After a year of wearing a mask everywhere I went in public, it seemed wrong somehow to expose my face. The employees still wore masks, as did about half of the other shoppers. When I stopped at two other businesses that same day, both places still required face coverings.

As of this writing, it’s up to each state, locality, or place of business to enforce mask-wearing or not. It’s a little confusing — just like it was last year when at first the CDC said wearing masks did not help stop the spread of the virus. That was soon reversed and we found that masks, along with other measures — like social distancing, more hand-washing and using hand sanitizer — did work. Now, the CDC is saying the vaccines are indeed doing their job.

There are still many questions, like “How will we know if someone has really been fully vaccinated?” The CDC’s Walensky replied that it won’t matter for those of us who are vaccinated. For those who choose not to receive the vaccine, the risk remains the same as it was before, she said, adding that ultimately “People are responsible for their own health.”

Almost half of adults in the U.S. are now fully vaccinated, the CDC says. But that means more than half of adults are not. NASW President Mit Joyner writes in this issue that social workers have a duty to inform, and that it’s “critical we obtain the relevant information about the vaccine in order to responsibly inform the community.” NASW has resources to help with this. See our COVID-19 page.

In this issue, you also can read about drug decriminalization laws and how they support social work’s advocacy for treatment over punishment when it comes to substance misuse. And we examine the topics of elder abuse and elder justice, as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day is recognized on June 15. You can read these articles and more in this issue.

As for masks or no masks in our current environment, I think it comes down to what makes each individual feel comfortable. As President Biden said, please be kind to those who still want to wear one.

It’s going to take some time getting used to a world without masks, but we will adapt—just like we always do.

Until next time,

cover of magazine, Drug Decriminalization, person sitting in oversized open handcuffs, holding hands with another person

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