It Is Joyous to See All Your Faces Again
Much has been written, since the CDC announced last week that vaccinated people did not have to wear masks indoors or outdoors, about the wisdom or prudence of the federal organizations’ new guidelines. Many epidemiologists felt the announcement was mishandled, and the CDC itself has reorganized its command structure in response to the backlash. There are reasonable questions to be asked about whether the CDC’s timing was suspect, whether they had appropriately prepped the public on what was coming. It’s a confusing time. Pandemics are very disorienting.
But still: I find myself thinking more of the reaction, the immediate one, that President Biden and the Republican lawmakers he was meeting with at the time the CDC’s announcement came out. They, almost as one, ripped off their masks and smiled at each other. The minute they could took off their masks, he did. I get it.
I have diligently, constantly worn masks throughout this pandemic. I have certain masks I wear for different occasions, athletic masks when I’m coaching Little League baseball, sleek silk masks for dinners out, that sort of thing. I’ve been consistently covered when out, and have in fact had to work on not scowling at someone when we’re indoors and they don’t have masks on. Our lives have been like this for more than a year now, but I’ve dealt with it the way you are supposed to. I masked up. I did the right thing.
But jeez, I didn’t like wearing masks. My desire for others to wear masks was not because I personally found them so cool and comfortable. Wearing masks is weird, and awkward, and served as a constant reminder that something terrible and all-encompassing was happening, something that would upend our lives for years to come. Masks made it so you couldn’t forget what was going on. They were a sign we were so locked in this. I wore them. I insisted others wear them. But yeah: I hated wearing them. I couldn’t wait until I didn’t have to anymore.
And now: We don’t! I’m fully vaccinated, everyone in my close circle (outside of my children) is fully vaccinated so … masks are off! I understand why people would feel uncomfortable taking their masks off; I certainly think if you would rather keep your mask on, you absolutely should do so without giving you any gruff about it. But I will say that being able to take my mask off, to see other people without their masks on, has been wonderful. It has been even more freeing than I would have thought. Everyone has an extra pep in their step. Not wearing a mask is a symbol again, but a glorious one: It’s a signal that we’ve taken a huge step to getting out of this. It’s an undeniable sign of the corner we have turned.
We are not out of the pandemic yet. There are tens of millions of vaccines we still need to get in arms, both in this country and worldwide. But the CDC announcement did something that had to be done at some point: Signal to Americans that their sacrifices have been rewarded, that progress has been made, that this wasn’t going to go on forever. I still wear my mask in grocery stores, at my kids’ school, any business that asks me to keep it on. I still want to follow the rules and do what’s best for my community, and humanity at large. And if you want to keep your mask on, you should, as long as you want to. (You look great in it!) But the one aspect of the CDC’s announcement I don’t see being discussed much is the most obvious one: Many, many people did not want to wear masks, were doing so because it was the right thing to do, and now can take them off. They can feel like the world is coming back. They feel joyous. They should. I know I do.
Will Leitch writes multiple pieces a week for Medium. Make sure to follow him right here. He lives in Athens, Georgia, with his family and is the author of five books, including the upcoming novel How Lucky, released by Harper on May 11. He also writes a free weekly newsletter that you might enjoy.