With the advent and rapid distribution of the various vaccines against COVID-19, there has been and will continue to be much news regarding mask mandates and whether they are required in different businesses, who they are still recommended for, and what steps different groups of people should take to continue preventing the spread of COVID-19.

The Delta variant throws a wrench into some of this, but generally speaking, most places in California, especially the Fresno area, are no longer requiring patrons to wear masks in any capacity. Even with news outlets suggesting that residents who have yet to receive vaccinations should continue wearing masks, the Fresno County Department of Public Health reports that less than half of residents are fully vaccinated. With roughly 45% of Fresno County residents reporting that they have received at least one dose and nearly 400,000 residents reporting that they are fully vaccinated, most locations should still be seeing a number of people wearing masks. They aren’t. 

It is likely that another uptick in cases will happen without the requirements for masks and social distancing, as those who do not have the vaccine are also unlikely to be honest and continue to wear masks, as per CDC recommendations. Chalk it up to that wonderful Gen Z pessimism, but I wouldn’t trust anybody to be honest regarding whether or not they are safe to be around unless I know them personally. I certainly wouldn’t trust a stranger to be honest regarding whether or not they have had the vaccine, and most others probably wouldn’t either. 

Data provided by the Fresno County Department of Public Health

What this all boils down to is the simple question: “Should I still wear a mask in public?” 

The truth of the matter is this is not easy to answer. Vaccinated individuals probably do not need to, as the vaccine is shown to be highly effective. Even in a room full of unvaccinated people, one is highly unlikely to get COVID-19. However, those who have yet to get the vaccine should still follow CDC guidelines and continue wearing masks and socially distancing themselves. 

Then there are those who are delaying or simply refusing to get the vaccine because of their distrust in it, in the companies that make it, in the government pushing it, and because of their own likely anti-mask beliefs that began prior to the release of the vaccines.

A community member who refuses to wear masks or get the vaccine, who chose to stay anonymous, said they stopped wearing masks in public places when it stopped being a requirement.

“I don’t really think it’s ever been able to stop COVID from spreading, but even if it did, at this point it’s just the flu to me,” they said. “I’m not that worried about getting it all. It either happens or it doesn’t.”

As for getting the vaccine, they said, “There aren’t any long-term studies available about how it affects people. Obviously there are a lot getting it, and they’re fine, but there are still horror stories about bad reactions, and I think it’s just more dangerous than if I got COVID. Anyone I know who got sick with it is fine now, even my grandma and she’s not healthy at all.”

On the other hand, someone who is pro-mask and pro-vaccine, who also chose anonymity, said they still try to wear masks even after the mandate was lifted.

“People are nasty,” they said. “I don’t know who is vaccinated, so I still wear them when I can. Most of those signs tell unvaccinated people to wear them, but I hardly see anyone with masks on, so I usually look weird doing it, but I feel a bit safer with it than without.”

They got the vaccine as soon as it was offered to them, saying it was the right thing to do. “I have respiratory issues, so being able to not worry as much about getting COVID is a really big help,” they said. “It won’t really be that helpful until other people get it too, but still, better for me to have it than not.”

Personally, I still wear masks in busy locations, not always and not everywhere, despite being fully vaccinated. I do feel safer when I am wearing one to some degree, but know that without widespread usage, it won’t do as much for me as it could. Densely populated areas like packed restaurants and grocery stores do make me a bit uncomfortable, especially given the rare but prevalent breakthrough cases of COVID-19 infection that are coming up more and more. I feel it is appropriate to wear masks in places where I have a higher potential of being infected, otherwise, I just avoid standing too close to others in less populated public spaces.

Unless state governments begin requiring masks again, and require the distancing previously enforced in public spaces, it is highly unlikely that masks will be commonplace within the Central Valley again. The voting population here is significantly in favor of never having this happen again, and unless another mandate is passed, people who do not want to wear masks simply will not. No place asks for proof of vaccination to allow lack of masks and social distancing and, at this point, everyone has carte blanche in regards to their precautions, and only a select few would actively continue to protect themselves in public spaces with this freedom.

Marcos Chavez (he/him/his)
Reporter | Future educator and proud Palestinian-Mexican American, computer nerd, and general jack-of-all trades.

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