I grabbed coffee on my way to work on Monday morning, just four days after Denver’s mask order was canceled. In this particular cafe, there were signs up front advising guests to continue wearing masks, as well as markings on the floor to keep everyone at a distance. All the customers I saw obeyed the rules, and the baristas wore masks and gloves themselves.
While I was waiting for my drink, a young couple entered the store. Neither wore a mask. A barista called to them from behind the counter and asked them to please put on face covers. The couple exchanged a look.
“But the mask order,” said the woman to the barista, who calmly explained that as a private company, you can still need face covers in the store. The woman reluctantly put hers on and the man reluctantly stepped outside.
Last week, Denver lifted its mask mandate for anyone who was vaccinated, leaving face-covering requirements to the individual companies rather than the government.
It’s a big change that has created a lot of debate and confusion. We wanted to hear from the Denverites – and especially those who might be most affected by the Order, such as parents of young children and service workers – how they felt about it. We asked ourselves on social media, on Reddit and in our newsletter: Are you still wearing a mask?
We received many responses. Hundreds of them. Some said they are excited about the change. Some vaccinated Denverites said they took COVID-19 seriously during the pandemic, but had enough confidence in the vaccine that they were ready to drop the mask. Some said they would stick with companies that need masks but would otherwise go without them. Still others said they would not patronize companies that require masks.
People also gave reasons rooted in social graces. Some said they would continue to wear masks to make people feel comfortable around them. Some said that they feel naked without a mask and that it is a habit that will be difficult to unlearn. Some just like the anonymity they offer. One Reddit user said, “As a woman, I haven’t been told to smile when walking down the street in over a year and I intend to keep this up for as long as possible.” Another user said masks ” hide my contempt for humanity. “
Before we get into what you told us, here is some science behind the vaccines and the reason you may not feel comfortable wearing a mask, even if you think vaccines are at work are highly effective in preventing COVID 10.
The CDC said that because the vaccines are effective at preventing COVID-19 infections and serious illnesses, people who have been fully vaccinated and waited two weeks after their final dose can safely go without a mask. Studies show that masks can slow the spread of COVID to others who have not yet been vaccinated.
Judith Fox directs the International Program in Disaster Psychology, Trauma, and Global Mental Health at the University of Denver. She is also a professor of psychology. She said people need to feel safe in the world. For many, the pandemic threatened that feeling of security.
“When a disaster strikes, our basic assumptions about our control and security in the world really get turned upside down,” she said. “I think COVID has clearly burst that bubble of invulnerability for all of us if we had this feeling from the start.”
She said maintaining security during the pandemic made it necessary to respond to a number of unknowns: about how to stay safe, who to listen to, what to do and what not to do.
“So I think the abrupt changes in the guidelines make people very concerned about what feels safe in which situations,” she said.
At the start of the pandemic, we quickly learned to equate masks with a semblance of security. All of a sudden we are told that they are optional.
“Switching from what we’ve learned to improve our safety, like wearing masks, can be extremely anxious,” said Fox. “People held on to it. Giving up something that has made us feel more controlled and secure in this situation can be pretty scary. “
Laurie Ivey is an Associate Professor at the DU Graduate School of Professional Psychology. Before that, she worked for 18 years as a health psychologist in primary care.
The pandemic isn’t over yet, but Ivey said that if it ends and the threat is cleared, it could take time for people to get used to “normal” behaviors, such as going to a grocery store exposed.
Ivey said it was important for people fearful of COVID to take small steps. There may be people who never stop wearing masks and she said that was fine. Masks can help people feel better, safer, and protect them from other diseases.
Still, Ivey said people need social interaction and movement. Changing one’s behavior to reflect a changed situation – like the end of the pandemic whenever it happens – can help improve mental health.
“How do we get back to pre-pandemic normalcy?” She said. “We have this new normal that we created and that has been around for a very long time. And in a way, we have to pull those layers back to get the feeling that we can live more freely again. “
Remi Kalir, a professor at the University of Colorado in Denver, told us that he’s not going “normal” anytime soon.
He said he now feels comfortable attending small gatherings with people he trusts and knows are vaccinated. But he’s not yet attending major social gatherings.
“Most of the past year in the pandemic was spent in a very small social bubble,” he said. “And so the current changes were a little disoriented.”
Kalir said he did not see his family’s behavior and daily rhythms changing significantly in response to the new guidelines.
“My first thought was, wow, we spent 15 months under lock and key. And you can’t just flip such a switch. People’s lives are a little more complex, ”he said. “I think it’s too fast. I don’t think the country level data is encouraging. And I think a lot more can be done, especially to protect more vulnerable populations. “
This includes his own child, a toddler who is too young to qualify for the vaccine, which is currently approved for children 12 and over.
“If you are responsible for looking after a child, it is important to reduce the risk,” Kalir said. “Wearing masks, social distancing, and other factors are important when you are responsible for a young child’s livelihood. And my partner and I take this very seriously. “
He said it was important to remember that individual actions have collective consequences.
“I think it’s important to think beyond yourself under these circumstances,” said Kalir. “As a parent, it’s pretty easy. And I hope that other people will keep an eye on the welfare of their neighbors and fellow citizens. “
Alex Trebino said she followed public health protocols but still received a mild case of COVID-19 in April last year.
Despite being 27 years old and fit, she was a long haul COVID.
“It’s a variety of things from insomnia to loss of taste and smell to brain fog and everything in between,” she said. “Just physical exhaustion.”
Until recently, she used supplemental oxygen at home before going into pulmonary rehabilitation to train her body to breathe normally. Now that the mask order has been broken, she fears that others are at greater risk of contracting COVID, especially those with skin color and lower income communities who have lower vaccination rates or those with compromised immune systems.
“I believe, as a society, we should make decisions based on our most vulnerable ones and, not least, on a more nuanced approach that is more inclusive,” she said.
She also fears that research on long-haul COVID cases is still new. She said many long distance riders started with mild cases when she did. She fears that while the vaccine protects against the most severe COVID cases, mild cases can breach the vaccine.
“So my real concern and question is whether these vaccine breakthrough cases can lead to long-range COVID.” She said. “And if so, what is the percentage?”
Trebino recently started working as a beer trader in a local brewery. So far, she said, people have been good at wearing masks and the company will continue to need them.
“The mask mandate is now up to the company, and I think it’s really complicated because the company wants to keep people safe. But they are also companies and everyone has to make money to survive, ”she said.
Emilia Volz said her mask was like a “safety blanket”.
She has been vaccinated since mid-January but still feels that she needs the protection of her mask.
“For me, not having it is just terrifying,” she said. “I like that my face is covered. I can hide the expression on my face if I want to or if I get upset and blush nobody can see it. Or like a pimple. “
Plus, since the mask was introduced last year, she hasn’t gotten sick, not even a cold.
She worries that if they stop wearing a mask, people might think she hasn’t been vaccinated. And she wants to be respectful of people who cannot get vaccinated. She said staff at the temporary shelter she operates will continue to wear masks as the customers they work with are particularly at risk.
“I hope people are friendly and respectful of the spaces where we still need to protect our neighbors,” she said.
Josh Baranauskas is immunocompromised. He said that before he was vaccinated, he really only left home to play sports. He’s branched out more since he got the shot, went to restaurants, and saw more people.
But he said he recently spoke to his nephrologist, who said she didn’t know how effective the vaccine would be for him. Early research shows that some immunocompromised people who received the mRNA vaccines don’t make nearly enough antibodies to be immune to the virus.
“In a way, we are the forgotten people,” said Baranauskas.
He admitted that the science is not complete. But if that’s the case, he wonders why Denver would jump to remove the mask mandate.
He said he saw a lot of social media posts saying that immunocompromised people “can just stay home” if they are concerned about the virus. He said his unemployment had recently ceased so staying home was not an option for him.
“You are forcing people back into the workforce and you are opening up all of these compromised people to get it,” he said. “All of the work we’ve done in the year and a half has been spent getting locked up … will it all be for nothing?” ”
We originally entered Josh’s last name incorrectly. It’s Baranauskas. We regret the mistake.