It’s happening. The day we’ve all been waiting for… or feared… or have mixed emotions about… or resigned ourselves to never happening at all only to be shocked by the reality that it is in fact, happening: mask mandates are being lifted in Santa Clara County.
California is ranked as the 7th strictest in regards to COVID-19 restrictions in the USA. Santa Clara County has been one of the most cautious in the state, waiting weeks longer than other Bay Area counties to lift mask mandates in public spaces.
Uncertainty breeds anxiety. Data shows that our brains do better with bad things that are known than those that are unknown. Masks coming off creates a new level of uncertainty for those that were already experiencing intense fears about COVID-19. These fears are not unwarranted by any stretch. No fears are, really. These fears are based on uncertainty, anxiety, input (what types of people we interact with, which news we are watching), and personal experience. Those that have been impacted by the deaths or illnesses of loved ones during the pandemic may be intensely worried about the implications of masks coming off, even if experts say that here, at the two-year mark of the pandemic – after vaccines, low rates of hospitalization, and confidence in the ability to manage the illness effectively – we are safe to take them off.
There are also those that view everything we’ve gone through in the past two years as having created a different kind of uncertainty entirely. Not viewing it in terms of the pandemic and illness so much as viewing it as uncertainty about when life will go back to normal. When jobs will be more secure. When they’ll be able to visit with loved ones again, travel, and see each other’s faces. This anxiety and uncertainty is also valid. It doesn’t mean that these people don’t care about public health. It doesn’t mean these people are one political view or that those worried about the illness are another. It doesn’t mean that these people have no regard for the health of others. By and large, people with these fears and anxieties have been complying with the public health orders.
For those who have been fearful of the uncertainty regarding health during the pandemic, masks coming off is adding a new level of anxiety. Those that are looking forward to masks coming off should be gracious with those individuals still wearing masks, and sensitive to their experience.
What people still wearing masks need to understand about those who aren’t is that mandates being lifted has eliminated some of the uncertainty that they have been struggling to cope with. Masks coming off is a way to make sense of the world again in a way that calms down their brains and takes some of their pandemic anxiety away. It feels like a step in the right direction.
Masking vs. not masking now that the mandate is lifted does not have to be a political issue. Those that do it still aren’t better than those who aren’t doing it anymore, and those that aren’t doing it anymore aren’t better than those that are still doing it. Our brains are just trying to cope and navigate the trauma we’ve been experiencing for the past two years.
So what is it that I’m worried about? With the mask mandate being lifted in schools on March 12, I worry that children will be bullied or ostracized based on their decisions regarding masking. This starts at home. Parents have a huge influence on their children and how they react to the world around them.
The fact is, the government has told us that masks are no longer required based on data. The children all have had the opportunity to be vaccinated. The ones that choose to no longer mask aren’t “bad” or “uncaring about public health” and the ones that are keeping them on aren’t “virtue signaling” or “fear mongers.” People. Are. Just. Trying. To. Cope.
Personally, I have one child who has said she’ll keep wearing masks forever, and one who can’t wait to take it off. I am respecting both of their decisions.
Please, please, please speak to your children about being kind and gracious about others’ personal choice to mask or not mask. The last thing children need is another thing to worry about at school.