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Facing the emotions of mask repeal

I had long looked forward to the day when I could go about my routine business without strapping on a surgical mask.

It would mean no more walking into stores and having my eyeglasses fog up. Sometimes, after two or three attempts at wiping away the condensation, the glasses would remain clear, or at least functional. But on other occasions I had to resort to walking up and the down the aisles half blind.

“Did you mean to buy zucchini? And where’s the cucumbers?”

Then there were the times I walked across the parking lot, a biting cold wind making the brief journey miserable, only to realize at the entrance the mask was in the car. The eye roll, the disgusted grunt, the quick turn back toward the car — we’ve all seen it.

So when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the data made it clear that those fully vaccinated against COVID-19 could safely live their lives inside or out without masks or social distancing, and then Gov. Ned Lamont announced that would become the official Connecticut policy May 19, I was all in.

Last week, the CDC revealed that so far, the breakthrough infection rate — cases of COVID-19 diagnosed at least two weeks after a person is fully vaccinated — is about 0.01%.

I’ll take those odds.

On the morning the mask order was lifted, I headed to my local Walmart in Lisbon for a printer-ink cartridge. This was a milestone event, a victory of science, an emancipation mask elimination.

But it looked like nothing had changed. There the sign, fading and sagging, still hung in the window. “Face coverings are required.”

Say, what? I know I had read that Walmart was cool with the new rule. I pushed forward, maskless, to be greeted inside by a masked “associate.”

“I’ve been fully vaccinated,” I explained. “So, can I go ahead, without a mask?” I asked, pointing to my face, in case there was any confusion.

“Yeah, go ahead,” he said.

OK, great. It was still fairly early in the morning, so there were not many customers. They all wore masks. Most were women.

Then I saw him, another guy — I guessed a 60-something like me — gazing confusedly at video games locked in a glass case. Buying for a grandkid, perhaps?

More importantly, his face was bare. We exchanged a glance. Should I offer a fist bump? Or some other sign acknowledging this brother in masklessness?

We settled for a nod of acknowledgement.

A couple of days later I repeated the experience in Target, where still mask wearers were dominant, though the ranks of those sans mask were growing. This time my wife, Kathy, was along. I had reassured her there was no need for her to wear a mask. She ended up feeling conspicuous in her bare facedness.

“I don’t get it,” I said, once back in the car. “Why do people want to keep wearing masks? They all can’t be unvaccinated.”

In my rational approach, Kathy explained, I was missing the emotional factor. For more than a year masks had meant protection, not only for oneself, but for others. It differentiated you from the COVID deniers. You were doing what you were supposed to do. Most people just don’t flick a switch on those emotions, she said, it will take time.

I get it. Take as much time as you need. Or stick to the mask, it’s a free country. Just don’t give me the evil eye when I ditch mine at every opportunity. I followed the science when it showed it was responsible to wear one. I won’t feel bad for following the science when it shows there is no need.

Paul Choiniere is the editorial page editor.

 

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