Q: I worry how I look if I continue to wear a mask in public now, but I also worry about how I feel when I do not wear one. How do I know what is the right thing to do going forward now that mask mandates are no longer in place?

A: I know many people feel the same sense of worry about what to do now that there are not clear mandates to follow regarding masks. When there is a rule, it is easy to know what to do. You do not have to decide for yourself what makes you feel comfortable and safe. You follow the mandate.

Now, with the mandates no longer in place for wearing masks indoors in public places (this does not include healthcare settings), you are left to decide for yourself how to proceed with masks.

I heard a local physician recently say they felt funny going into a restaurant wearing a mask when no one else was. I heard another person comment they were unsure how it would appear if they visited a friend’s house not wearing a mask. Would the friend see this action as rude?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a tool to see what level your community rates are at for COVID-19. If you community is considered low risk, you can wear a mask based on your personal preference. If your community is at medium risk, they recommend you wear a mask if immunocompromised or at high risk for severe illness. In a high-risk community, they recommend wearing a mask indoors in public settings regardless of vaccination status.

You can look up your community here https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/your-health/covid-by-county.html

It also helps to understand your personal risk for severe illness. Talk to your doctor to understand your health conditions and how they may affect your risk level. Age, of course, is a factor, as well as any chronic conditions you may have. Also think about the people in your close circle and their risk level. Vaccination status is another important factor.

Ultimately, while the freedom of choice may add stress or a feeling of liberty or independence, choice now allows you to do what is best for you and your household. Ideally, each person should be able to wear or not wear a mask without worry of what other people are thinking.

Anytime you are doing something differently then others in a group, it can feel socially awkward, like wearing jeans to a formal event. Remind yourself that while you do not want others to judge you, so should you not judge them. Be confident in your decision and do not let the actions of those around you change your mind. You probably remember talks about avoiding peer pressure when you were younger. Now you need to ignore peer pressure, even as an older adult.

Make your decisions based on your health status, your close circle, and your comfort level. And remember, this can always change in the future.

We are learning that masks can be a useful tool in reducing the spread of infections, not just the spread of COVID-19. As our community risk level changes so may the mask rules. Follow the guidelines and do what is best for you.

Martha Shapiro can be reached at Senior Concerns at 805-497-0189 or by email at mshapiro@seniorconcerns.org.

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