I’m Still Masking Because I Care About the Most Vulnerable

It doesn’t exactly feel cool to wear my N95 mask right now. Everywhere I go, Americans seem to have given up on essential and basic public-health strategies proven to reduce the risk of COVID-19—and most visible is the shedding of masks. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has granted permission for most Americans to stop wearing them indoors. Americans don’t have to wear masks in public spaces or on airplanes.

You know what, though? I don’t care what anyone says. I still wear a high-quality mask when I travel—even though nowadays I’m often the only person doing so on my flight. Yes, it’s annoying. And no, I don’t You can find it here to. But for the near future and until the end of the pandemic, I’m not throwing away my masks.

Continuing to wear a mask when you technically don’t have to is a fringe stance. Axios/Ipsos poll showed that less than half (50%) of Americans admitted wearing masks other than in the house at all times. Masking is important, but it’s also essential to continue to be vigilant in protecting vulnerable people.

Our society once more shows that in its rush to get back to normal, it has lost the ability to think about what is right. That has profound implications for the most vulnerable in our society, including Black people and other people of color—and, in the case of COVID-19, pregnant people, older and immunocompromised individuals, babies too young to be vaccinated, and others.

As a long-time public health nurse, I’ve witnessed firsthand how little groups that bear the greatest burden for disease factor into people’s decision-making. These groups, according to Black Feminist Thought (in which both my academic and clinical decision-making are based), should be at the forefront. Centering the margins is one of its foundational principles. This means those with the highest burden should have more power to alleviate it. Our nation’s response to COVID-19 goes against this tenet. The pandemic has been reduced to individuals’ choices and behavior, while trying to address a larger problem. The fact that we all are in this together has been ignored. Two years ago, we have seen what happens when that ignorance is rewarded: deaths and COVID-19 infection rates were higher in Blacks than for other races. They continue to do so.

This is where a paradigm shift in thinking and practice is necessary. It should include public good, caring for others, community spread reduction, future preparedness, and public health. We need to use both public-health mitigation strategies—like routinely wearing effective masks—and clinical interventions, like antivirals, hospitalization, and critical care, to minimize community spread and to protect as many people as possible.

As COVID-19’s numbers continue to fluctuate and evolve, I fear that we will lose sight of basic preventive strategies. People are already resigned to the prospect of getting COVID-19 and think nothing can stop it from happening—which doesn’t have to be true if you keep taking measures to protect yourself and others.

It is a pleasure to see people wearing high-quality masks in public places, especially if they are not required to show proof of vaccination. It’s so inexpensive. It doesn’t hurt; in fact, it helps keep you and others around you healthy. There are no side effects or risks.

It’s not required. Just wish that there was more people who would do this.

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