US citizens caught between confusion, suspicion about wearing face masks

By Alfonso Fernandez and Alex Segura Lozano

Washington/Los Angeles, May 19 (EFE).- Many people who have been vaccinated against Covid-19 in the United States have stopped wearing face masks when out in public after health authorities said a week ago that it’s no longer necessary for them to do so, although that guidance has created confusion and suspicion among many around the country.

Meanwhile, companies and institutions are now trying to adapt to this sudden change in health recommendations, a shift which is serving to create a new phase in the pandemic.

After more than a year wearing face masks as a tool to protect people against the pandemic, the new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued last week have caused a social earthquake.

“Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities, large or small, without wearing a mask or physical distancing. If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic,” said CDC director Rochelle Walensky at a May 13 press conference to the great surprise of virtually everyone.

Walensky’s remarks were designed to be an inflexion point in the US, creating a “before” and an “after” amid the pandemic, along with serving to motivate non-vaccinated people to go ahead and get the jab.

The reality, however, is more complicated and has sparked an unexpected backlash.

Although a large number of vaccinated people complied with the mask-wearing recommendation, even outdoors, the problem arises concerning closed spaces, where companies and other establishments have to deal with the potential risk of infection, given that not everyone can or wants to demand proof of vaccination from their workers or customers.

In Washington DC, many of the eateries and coffee houses have modified the signs on their entrances to emphasize that they are continuing to require people to wear masks inside despite the new CDC guidelines.

One of the US capital’s councilmen, Charles Allen, acknowledged this week that the change in the CDC’s stance has created “anxiety” among small businesses.

At a meeting of the DC government, Allen said that the new CDC guideline puts small businessowners in the position of having to verify the vaccination status of others, something that it’s virtually impossible to ask people about, and he added that he worries that it’s going to increase altercations and conflicts.

At parks in Washington, the situation is paradoxical: some vaccinated parents are already going maskless as per the new guidelines, while their children must continue to wear them while running around and playing.

Other people admit that wearing a mask is no longer strictly necessary but they are continuing to do so due to simple inertia and for increased safety.

New Yorkers, meanwhile, have reacted cautiously to the CDC announcement. On the street, in shopping centers and neighborhood stores more people are preferring to continue keeping their mouths and noses covered.

Almost everyone is continuing to wear them because they’re worried, Nico – the owner of the Ocean Fish Market, in the Astoria neighborhood – told EFE while outfitted with a plastic face shield.

On the other side of the country, Los Angeles has also been seeing contradictory situations: people are walking on the Santa Monica pier wearing face masks, but those who are out on the beach sand there are maskless.

Add to all of this the political component which has been distorting the situation since the start of the pandemic, when then-President Donald Trump repeatedly expressed his skepticism about whether or not masks were effective, thus transforming mask-wearing or going maskless into a partisan symbol and statement.

Republicans generally feel that the mask requirement has been an unwarranted imposition by the federal government and something that inhibits their personal freedom, while Democrats by and large have used it as a sign of protest against Trump’s manifest distrust of scientific advice.

Now, with health authorities pointing to the progress in the nationwide vaccination campaign and with almost 40 percent of the US adult population fully inoculated, people are admitting that they’re confused.

Regarding the controversy and the general discombobulation, Dr. Rene Sotelo, a professor at the University of Southern California said that it’s gone “beyond partisanship” and what one sees now is “fatigue” among the public.

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