What Is Your Reaction to New Guidelines That Loosen Mask Requirements?


Students in U.S. high schools can get free digital access to The New York Times until Sept. 1, 2021.

Federal health officials on May 13 advised Americans who are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus that they could stop wearing masks or maintaining social distance in most settings. In the days since the announcement, what have you observed in your community? Have stores and other businesses changed their policies about masks being worn by customers? Do you see more people without masks?

What is your reaction to the C.D.C.’s new guidelines for vaccinated people? How do they affect you, your family and your community?

In “Mask? No Mask? New Rules Leave Americans Recalibrating, Hour by Hour,” Mitch Smith writes about people’s varied reactions to the announcement:

CHICAGO — For Americans whose bare faces had scarcely been seen in public for a year, there were suddenly options. Would they leave the mask behind for a jog? What about the coffee shop? What about the neighbor’s house? The office?

A sudden loosening this week of federal health guidance on masks has handed Americans a new calculation to make. And it isn’t just one calculation, but a maze of many. As people walked through their days, hour by hour, errand by errand, some wondered at every new doorway: Mask or no mask?

In interviews this weekend with dozens of residents from Los Angeles to Atlanta, people said they were mostly encouraged by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s finding that masks were no longer needed for fully vaccinated people in most indoor and outdoor situations.

But the details, many said, were perplexing, and had stirred new questions about science, but also about trust, social norms and even politics. How can one be certain that people no longer wearing masks have actually gotten a vaccine? What will the neighbors think if you take yours off? (And what will they think if you don’t?) And what if, some asked, you just feel more comfortable in a mask?

The article continues:

Though masks have been found to slow the spread of the coronavirus, their place in the American wardrobe has become more than just epidemiological. Over the last year, as Republicans pushed back against mask mandates, some Democrats wore masks even while outdoors and alone, and updated their Facebook profile photos to show their mouths and noses covered.

“I’m hyper-aware that wearing a mask or not wearing a mask says something about me,” said Annie Krabbenschmidt, 27, a gig worker and writer who lives in Los Angeles. She said she had apprehensions about giving up her mask. “They are so much more than a safety vest, at this point.”

The new guidance seemed to scramble all the presumptions people had come to understand about who wears masks and who does not.

Someone with no mask might still signify that they oppose masks and doubt the risks of Covid-19 — or it now might mean the person is fully vaccinated and following C.D.C. guidance to the letter. And someone with a mask might now be signaling their support for virus-control efforts but rejection of the latest C.D.C. guidance — or it might mean that a person is unvaccinated and following the rules to stay masked. Or it might mean something else altogether. Easy labels have vanished.

With no national system to check who is vaccinated and who is not, the new federal guidance leaves an unavoidable — but gaping — hole, some people said. There’s no guarantee, they said, that unvaccinated people will not discard their masks along with the vaccinated ones, potentially creating a risk that the virus will continue to circulate.

“You never know who is vaccinated or who is lying,” said Bayleigh Harshbarger, 22, who said that she is vaccinated (and telling the truth). She covered her face to go shopping Saturday in Kansas City, Mo., though a mask mandate expired a day earlier. “It’s just so normal now that I feel weird walking places without a mask,” she said.

Students, read the entire article, then tell us:

  • What are your responses to the concerns expressed by people who are quoted in the article? For instance, do you think that people who aren’t vaccinated will choose not to wear masks now?

  • Are you vaccinated? Are most of the people you know vaccinated? Do you think the new guidelines for masking take the needs of the unvaccinated into consideration? Why or why not?

  • The C.D.C. still advises that K-12 schools continue to implement proper mask-wearing through the end of the school year, but do you think it will be harder for schools to enforce mask protocols now? Explain your answer.

  • In the article, the pastry shop owner Angela Garbacz said:

Do I get rid of my mask requirement? It’s just so much uncertainty with the one thing that’s helped us feel safe in a really scary time.

What do you think Ms. Garbacz should do? Do you think business owners feel pressure to change — or keep — their rules about masks? Will their businesses be affected positively or negatively based on how they respond to the new guidelines? Explain.

  • The article states that masks have taken on political meaning, but in light of the new guidelines, “easy labels have vanished.” How do you interpret that? Right now, what do you think it “means” to wear a mask or not wear one?

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Students 13 and older in the United States and the United Kingdom, and 16 and older elsewhere, are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.

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