What a difference a week can make. Just days ago everyone standing in line in Market Basket or at the coffee shop was wearing a mask. Now, with the lifting of most COVID-19 related restrictions in Massachusetts, we can see each other’s faces again, with some exceptions.
It might be easy to look upon those few still hidden behind their masks with derision -- after all, aren’t they ready to be over this pandemic -- but we’d do well to bear in mind the anxiety, and, for some, real risk that comes with taking off the mask.
For example, what do parents decide for children under age 12 who are still not eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine? The likelihood of children developing serious complications from the coronavirus is small compared with adults, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But it’s not nothing.
People with weakened immune systems also remain at risk, even after getting their COVID-19 shots.
The CDC’s latest guidance on masks, and now state public health rules, say they should not be required for people who’ve been vaccinated. But we’re all on our honor about that — which has some public health experts worried.
All of which leaves some of us taking the measure of every situation, particularly involving crowds, and deciding whether to mask up or whether it’s even worth taking part.
Daniel Summers, a North Andover pediatrician, recently told the Washington Post that his goal is to help parents of his patients feel confident about making the right call.
“I’m primarily trying to empower them to make their own calculations and feel confident in those decisions — that I trust them to do this for any given situation, because these decisions are on a case-by-case, event-by-event, activity-by-activity basis,” said Summers. “I want them to feel like they can assess the risk that’s going to be present, they can know who is going to be there and decide if the risk they are going to be accepting is worth the benefit that they are going to enjoy.”
It’s a perfectly reasonable approach, albeit not always easy to communicate to children, nor easy to accept for any of us who just want this thing to be finished.
The important thing, Summers notes, is to remember these conversations in light of the ones we were having a year ago, when the message was to wear masks to stop the spread of COVID-19. Now, at least, we’re making decisions about going to baseball games or the beach or summer camp. Now we face the hope of life getting back to normal.
Even as more people get the jab — about three-quarters of the vaccine eligible population in Massachusetts has at least one dose — masks remain part of life for some. The rest of us should count ourselves lucky and maybe offer the still-masked a little deference — and certainly six feet of distance — as we come out of these dark times together.