Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today

Author: Jonathan Wolfe
This post originally appeared on NYT > U.S. News

The new mask guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which says that vaccinated people can go barefaced in most outdoor settings, is a baby step back to normalcy. But after the trauma of the past year, many Americans are finding it difficult to uncover their faces so quickly — let alone return to their old ways.

Do we shake hands now? Hug? Dine indoors? These are questions made more complicated by ever-changing rules, which can vary from state to state and even among neighborhoods.

Some of us have also found that masks are useful for things other than preventing infection. They can keep our faces warm in the winter, help introverts hide in plain sight and allow us to lip-sync a Dua Lipa anthem during a workout without embarrassment. Not to mention helping us let go of vanity and save time. “It saves me having to put on sunscreen and wear lipstick,” said Sara J. Becker, an associate professor at the Brown University School of Public Health.

Dr. Susan Huang, a professor of infectious diseases at the University of California, Irvine, medical school, said that the conflicted psychology around mask wearing is a function of rapidly changing risk, and differences in risk tolerance. While about a third of the country is fully vaccinated, we are still nowhere near the roughly 80 percent needed to reach herd immunity.

“We’re between the darkness and the light,” Huang said, likening the psychology around masks to the different ways people choose to dress in spring. People who are more risk averse continue to wear winter clothes on 50-degree days, while bigger risk takers might choose shorts.

“Eventually,” she said, “everyone will be wearing shorts.”

My colleague Ginia Bellafante, who writes about New York City, noticed that people in her Brooklyn neighborhood were also reluctant to shed their masks, either because they were traumatized after relatives fell ill, or had people in their lives who were unvaccinated or living with underlying conditions.

“Whatever happens, many of us will not be able to let go of the fear and insularity that the pandemic has brought,” she wrote. “Even the fully vaccinated are, in many instances, still choosing outdoor seating when they go out to eat.”

At least for now, Ginia continued, some of us are “hostages still beholden to the demands of our captor.”

Perhaps more than any other population, nursing-home residents and staff have borne the brunt of the pandemic. In the U.S., deaths in long-term care facilities account for nearly a third of all the country’s Covid deaths. The pandemic also kept nursing-home residents and their loved ones apart for a year, and that isolation ignited its own physical and mental health crisis.

As nursing-home facilities open up, families are once again being let in, and photographers for The Times were there to document the reunions.

I have been borrowing books from our local library. I reserve them online and look forward to the drive to pick them up — my outing for the week. Historical fiction from World War II has been the genre. It is hard to feel sorry for yourself during shutdowns when you read countless stories of danger, fear, hiding and rationing food. I actually feel fortunate that I am home and safe.

— Susan Doran, Angelica, N.Y.

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