Dear Miriam | Mask Wearing More Complicated Than Ever

Alessandro Biascioli | Getty images

Dear Miriam,

What are your thoughts on mask-wearing in situations that are no longer considered, by current guidelines, to be necessary, but yet the expectation seems to be that everyone wears a mask anyway?


To mask or, You Know, Not to

Dear Mask,

I’m going to repeat the following statement without attribution because I’ve heard it just that many times: “This period of reentry is more difficult and more confusing than the beginning of the pandemic.” Back then, we were different people. We didn’t know anything about the virus. Everything closed. We stayed home and away from people. There was very little nuance and, for most of us, especially in Philly, when we were told to wear masks, we did.

Now, of course, there are vaccines, which changes everything. But in addition to that incredible life-changing technology, there are frequently new guidelines being issued. There are different rules for indoors versus outdoors, adults versus kids, two households gatherings versus more than two, etc. It’s hard to keep up, it’s hard to be consistent and, frankly, it’s hard to know who to trust. In some, actually a lot, of circumstances, it’s easier and more straightforward just to keep your mask on than to navigate a bunch of potential complications.

For store owners, event planners, synagogue directors and others tasked with keeping large groups of people safe, maintaining a mask mandate means not having to ask for proof of vaccination, not having to single people out who may not be able to vaccinated and not creating a complicated divide between adults who can be vaccinated and children who cannot. Maintaining a mask mandate also means maintaining a visual cue of mutual respect and COVID-consciousness that can be hard to establish in large groups without the signal of mask-wearing.

If you’re in a place where you think a mask is not necessary, but everyone around you is still wearing one, I encourage you to keep wearing one until you find out the specifics of the expectations. There may be a requirement that you’re not aware of, or there may be social norms that will take longer to fade than it takes to reissue guidelines or you may simply be around a lot of very cautious and/or conscientious people.

You also may find that a lot of adults who are interacting with kids, whether as parents or teachers, are continuing to stay masked in public because our kids are still required to do so. It’s both a sign of solidarity with children who aren’t yet eligible for vaccines as well as, more importantly, an opportunity to model a thing we still actually need our kids to do in most situations.

All that said, if you’re vaccinated and you’re in a place with guidelines allowing for no masks, and removing yours won’t create complications with children who are present, then it’s worthwhile to trust the science, test your own comfort zone and consider taking yours off.

But follow the lead of the people around you, and, if you find that masks are still required in certain spaces, rather than question the owners or organizers, just be respectful of the situation, even if you don’t know the details, and put the mask on. We wore them for a year, and we can keep doing so as dictated by any particular circumstance.

Be well,



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here