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Masks off: The unvaccinated are on their own

Let's be honest, the masking decisions from on high have been puzzling throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

First, we were told not to wear them, to save them for essential workers who needed them more.

Now we see clearly that there was never a real risk of mask shortages, given how resourceful people have been in making their own or using all kinds of cloth face coverings, even a bandana pulled up over the nose.

Then we learned that, had we all been wearing masks from the beginning, many lives, maybe even hundreds of thousands, could have been saved. For the most part, especially here in Connecticut, we eventually embraced mask-wearing.

Now, just as abruptly as when we were told to start wearing them, we are told we can largely take off the masks, even indoors, once we have been vaccinated.

The timing remains curious, given that well more than half the country has not been vaccinated.

It's true that the new masks-off rule should not worry the vaccinated. Vaccinated, I will feel safe at Walmart even if no one has a mask on. The odds are incredibly low I would get sick and almost unheard of that I would get seriously ill or hospitalized.

But for the unvaccinated, the new order is like pulling the rug out from everyone.

The unvaccinated person who now goes into Walmart, even with a mask, still faces the same risks as they did last week.

Actually, the risk is probably much greater, since last week everyone else was wearing a mask. This week, maybe not so many are wearing them and it's hard to know how many of those unmasked people may not be vaccinated, cheating on the rule and capable of passing around the coronavirus.

It's really hard to understand why the guidance on indoor mask-wearing changed now, since less than half the country has been vaccinated. It seems odd that you would change the policy when more than half the country is still at risk indoors when people are not wearing masks.

I can't help but wonder if maybe this is not the point, to make the situation more plain to people who have resisted vaccines.

I know many of those who haven't gotten a vaccine are COVID-19 deniers who are glad to see the mask mandates gone. They are not likely to be troubled to find themselves, unvaccinated, in a store with people not wearing masks.

But what about those who just haven't bothered getting the vaccine, knowing their masked routines in a masked world have kept them safe.

If I were unvaccinated and suddenly found myself indoors where no one was wearing a mask — and maybe some of them were unvaccinated and capable of passing the virus — I would figure out how to get a shot quickly.

In that situation, wearing a mask would help protect the unvaccinated but not as much as when everyone else was wearing a mask.

I am sure we will sort out these new rules.

If taking away the mask protections motivates more people to get vaccines, ultimately making us all safer, I suppose that's a good thing. It seems like a little pandemic tough love for the unvaccinated.

I do urge all those who have gleefully ditched the masks to keep in mind that some vaccinated people still take comfort in them, especially if they live with people with compromised immune systems.

I'm largely ready to give masks the heave. I get the reality as well as the symbolism of the freedom in that.

But I will admit to some reluctance to give up something that seemed so reassuring and protective for so long, given what seems like arbitrariness to the rules. You might say I am ditching it with nostalgia.

In any case, let's not allow ourselves any mask shaming. Remember, wearing a mask, for whatever reason, certainly won't hurt anyone else.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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