It seems like nearly everywhere, masks are off. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, after weeks of deliberation, last week relaxed its mask guidance. Now, over 90% of the U.S. population lives in places where, per CDC guidelines, masks are no longer required.
Depending on who you are or how you look at it, this might be good news. It means that, two years into the pandemic, and following the massive omicron variant surge, our covid-19 case and hospitalization rates are low. Some people are relieved, having been counting down the days until the mask mandates were finally lifted. But the announcement of relaxed rules is coming to some as ambivalent news at best — and anxiety-inducing at worst.
Particularly affected by this change are children and teenagers. Schools are a major sphere where changing coronavirus restrictions have played out, and many states are moving to ease schoolwide restrictions, including in our own district. D.C. public schools lifted their outdoor mask mandate this week, but will keep them indoors. In Virginia, masks are officially optional in public schools. Maryland also lifted its statewide school mask mandate.
Here are some reasons why this news might be causing you and your children anxiety, as well as some mechanisms to help cope:
Masks give us extra protection from covid-19. Being in public spaces, especially indoor or crowded ones, unmasked is a new situation to many. Yes, vaccination rates are climbing, and in many places cases are decreasing. But masking up has been a major daily step to take to feel safe as the virus continues transmitting across communities. They’re also very tangible, visible ways of staying protected.
Children or their parents may be worried about losing the extra layer of protection that comes with masks, and with being around others who are masked up too. Some families with immunocompromised members may experience added anxiety about the easing mandates. This change might feel like it’s coming prematurely.
Just as you’ve made safety calculations based on what is best for you and your family through the pandemic, you may continue to do so under mask optional rules.
Masks have allowed us to hide. For people who are nervous around others, or self-conscious, face coverings were likely a welcome part of their daily routine for two years. Masks, in a way, have become like security blankets — we can feel less vulnerable with them on, and not just because of the virus.