Masking in a Post-Vaccination World

The politics of face coverings continues to shift.

When I saw the New York Times headline “Are Masks a New Signifier of Social Class?” I was expecting another discussion of the weird politics around masking. But the piece makes a narrower point:

In the weeks since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revised its mask guidelines to allow fully vaccinated people to take their masks off in most indoor settings, a stark divide has emerged, particularly in wealthier enclaves where services are at a premium.

Those who are still wearing masks tend to be members of the service class — store clerks, waiters, janitors, manicurists, security guards, receptionists, hair stylists and drivers — while those without face coverings are often the well-to-do customers being wined and dined.

Employers are hesitant to discuss their mask policies, but there are sensible reasons for requiring staffers to keep their masks on.

Just under 50 percent of people in the United States are fully vaccinated. And coronavirus variants, some of which are highly infectious and may be more resistant to vaccines, are on the rise, said Dr. Lisa Maragakis, an epidemiologist and associate professor at Johns Hopkins University.

Food servers, retail clerks, grocery cashiers and other public-facing workers interact all day with customers, which can put their health (and the health of their customers) at risk. This creates not only potential liability issues for employers, but also could hamstring a business at a time of worker shortages.

In the Northern Virginia suburbs of DC, where I live, I’m seeing less of this. Most service workers seem to be unmasked now—although I was confused when I walked into Costco yesterday afternoon and just about everyone seemed to be masked up. I briefly wondered whether they had reinstated a masking requirement.

We’re a very-highly-vaccinated area, so maybe it’s different elsewhere. But, here, I’m actually confused when I see customers still wearing masks. Are they unvaccinated? If so, why not? And, if they’re voluntarily refusing to get vaccinated, why mask up?

The strangest group to me is the shockingly high number of people who continue to wear a mask improperly. On the aforementioned trip to Costco, quite a number of people were wearing the mask well off of their nose or as a “chin diaper.” Why would anyone do that? Just take the damn thing off.

FILED UNDER: COVID-19, Society
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. charon says:

    Those who are still wearing masks tend to be members of the service class — store clerks, waiters, janitors, manicurists, security guards, receptionists, hair stylists and drivers — while those without face coverings are often the well-to-do customers being wined and dined.

    I call BS, not my experience.

    I was in Trader Joe’s a couple of days ago, early, soon after opening, with only a few customers there, about 6 or so. Everyone in the store, customers and workers was masked.

    At the supermarket, Albertson’s recently, about half masked, both customers and workers.

    This in a very red suburban Phoenix area. My guess is lots of vaccinated people are masking, lots of unvaccinated also unmasked. (Current COVID trend in the area is rising and accelerating, of course).

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  2. Sleeping Dog says:

    @charon:

    My experience here in eastern Cow Hampshire is similar to @James, mostly service workers masked while most customers aren’t. But among service workers, the number who are masked is diminishing.

    1
  3. CSK says:

    I’m in a highly-vaxxed area of a highly-vaxxed state (61.9 fully so), and the vast majority of people seem to have abandoned masks, with the strict exceptions of those using medical facilities and public transportation. I haven’t been to any concerts, the theater, or sporting events, so I can’t speak to what’s happening at those. At any rate, Covid cases and deaths are plummeting.

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  4. We have been on vacation in South Carolina–Charleston and Hilton Head. While a handful of fellow vacationers are masked, the only consistent group that I have seen in masks has been in restaurants and other service circumstances (although this has been far from 100% consistent).

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  5. Likewise at home I see a pattern similar to what the NYT piece suggests–if I am going to see masks, it is going to be on employees in shops and whatnot.

    The only place on campus that I see consistent masking is the staff in the faculty/staff dining hall.

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  6. charon says:

    I think there is a large cultural element here, masks protect against colds, flu etc. so they can just seem like a good idea to some people – but they have become so politicized that going mask-free has become a way for Republicans to virtue signal how politically correct they are.

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  7. Cheryl Rofer says:

    Divisive, not-helpful headline on the NYT article James links.

    What I see is inconsistent. My fully vaccinated practice for now is to wear a mask when I am indoors with people I don’t know. That means stores.

    It’s a show of solidarity with people who are still vulnerable and a warning that the pandemic is far from over. Plus excessive caution in a situation in which I could wind up maimed or dead. I always choose excessive caution when that is a significant possibility.

    This NYT guest essay captures it.

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  8. charon says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    But among service workers, the number who are masked is diminishing.

    Again, localized, depends on the area. My impression last time I was in Albertson’s maybe 60% of workers masked. Earlier visits, fewer, maybe 40% or less. More customers masking recently also. (Again, my area is on its way to becoming a COVID hotspot).

  9. charon says:

    From Rofer’s linky:

    Human Behavior During the Pandemic Is More Important Than Any Covid Variant

    Which is why resort areas like Branson and Las Vegas are becoming COVID hotspots.

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  10. grumpy realist says:

    Here where I am in Illinois it’s a mix. Some of the grocery stores are still requesting that everyone be masked; but Trader Joe’s has lifted the requirement for its customers. (I note that all of its employees are still masked.). Restaurants: workers are still masked. Masking of customers not required.

    US Post office: all customers should mask.

    Don’t know whether it’s more polite to mask or not when it’s voluntary, now that I’m completely vaccinated. I think in our local area the percentage having been vaccinated is in the upper 70%.

  11. CSK says:

    @charon:
    Massachusetts (where I am) is perhaps the deepest blue state of all. I can guarantee you that no one here who’s maskless is signalling that she or he is a Republican. That’s also true of northern Virginia, where JJ lives.

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  12. Kathy says:

    @charon:

    Don’t forget this is the virus beloved by trump. No one in the world has done more for the continued survival and evolution of SARS-CoV-2 than Trump. Why would he do that if not out of love? Catching COVID is proof of devotion, too.

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  13. Chip Daniels says:

    Long before Covid I used to see people, mostly Asian, walking along the streets of downtown LA wearing masks.
    I used to snicker and mock them, thinking they were silly worrywarts. But of course I was wrong. Asia has experience with epidemics like SARs and the bird flu, and mask wearing is seen there as a sensible precaution, not just against pandemic illnesses but common colds and flu.

    I joyfully took off my mask when I got vaccinated. But I’m not going to criticize others who continue to mask up even after vaccination. The virus continues to mutate and evolve into new strains, and there just isn’t such a thing as “safe” right now.

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  14. jfoobar says:

    I also live in Northern Virginia (the bluest part of it, in fact) and I do still see quite a few customers wearing masks. And while I did at first enjoy taking my mask off when allowed, I have started wearing it again in most indoor shopping situations as well. It just seems safer to do so at this point with the variants still roaming about.

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  15. de stijl says:

    I shared this the other day.

    As someone who deals with anxiety, masking was beneficial. Beneficial is the wrong word…liberating? Somewhere on that spectrum. Life was easier and more pleasant.

    In certain circumstances wearing a mask meant less social anxiety and more social confidence. It is hard to describe vague feelings.

    Plus I did not have to wear my annoying fake teeth to not offend you annoying plebs while buying groceries for the week. That was also a relief.

    Describing why I got comfort from a thing that covers what? covers maybe a third of my face is hard to find the words for.

    A scrap of cloth covering a third of my face somewhat ameliorated the effects of agoraphobic anxiety, GAD, SAD, PTSD in provoking circumstances? That is ludicrous on its face, but it somehow felt true to a degree.

    I was not immune to the above-mentioned, but I felt removed from it to a marked, notable degree while masked up in public.

    Masked me was more confident and less prone towards bolting to home if he felt regarded and judged. Especially when everyone else was doing it.

    A handful of years ago I would not have shared this. I would have endlessly fronted as normal and was easily and effortlessly coping with life.

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  16. charon says:

    @CSK:

    Massachusetts (where I am) is perhaps the deepest blue state of all. I can guarantee you that no one here who’s maskless is signalling that she or he is a Republican.

    People are individuals and come complete with individualistic behaviors, I found this in comments over at LGM:

    My wife is a therapist in DC. Several Trumpers as patients. They are all waiting until Biden’s July 4th deadline passes, only then will they get the vaccine. Once they “hurt” Biden they will get the vaccines in time for fall/winter.

    https://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2021/07/the-return-of-covid-19

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  17. Han says:

    I can tell you why I’m still masking indoors in crowded stores. I have two kids at home who are not old enough to be vaccinated. Sure, I’m protected. And if I catch it I will likely be asymptotic. But I don’t think we know enough about asymptotics passing it on. And I don’t want to bring something home and infect my kids. Unlikely? Probably. But it takes so little effort to put on a mask to go into a grocery store, why would I not?

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  18. gVOR08 says:

    Here in SW FL mask usage is falling off quickly. National chains seem to be still doing at least partial masking. Local places not at all, sometimes aggressively as in the “Face diapers not required” sign by the door of a restaurant I used to go to. For me the question has never been “Why mask?” but “Why not?” Its a negligible inconvenience, it costs next to nothing, especially as I have a pile on the shelf, and it might help. Plus new cases are rising* here and I feel as best I can I should set an example. As long as anyone else is masked I feel like it’s only polite for me to mask. But it looks like pretty soon no one will be masked except me and the baristas at Starbucks.
    _____
    *Cases are rising in FL as best I can tell. DeUseless has gone to reporting weekly, on Friday, document dump day.

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  19. CSK says:

    @charon:
    Well, you seemed to be contesting JJ’s observation about his neck of the woods by calling it “BS.” What one observes happening around one isn’t BS, it’s reality. I wouldn’t contradict anything you said about what you see happening in Arizona. I believe what you say about your area.

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  20. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    Where I live, most people are still wearing masks at the grocery store, pharmacy, in restaurants before they’re served food. I’m frankly surprised that in a county where 57% voted for FG a SECOND time as many people as do are still wearing masks. That only 47,000 people out of a population of ~103,ooo have gotten at least one shot isn’t as surprising. Oh well, as long as they’re doing one or the other, I guess. But I’ll still pass on the big super spreader event Fourth of July celebration. I can see most of the fireworks from the back yard of my apartment building (~4 miles away) anyway. They’ll look really good from here.

    1
  21. EddieInCA says:

    In Los Amgeles, most people are still masked indoors at the places I have visited recently. That includes several restaurants, pharmacies, grocery stores, the bank, and a few other places. People here are still overwhelmingly wearing masks. Of course, most of the businesses still have mask rules.

    As for me, I intend to wear a mask whenever I fly for the rest of my life. I’ll probably wear it in other crowded indoors situations as well. Why? Because for years I got the flu or colds multiple times per year due to all my time in airports and on airplanes.. Since I started wearing a mask, I’ve not had one cold nor the flu. Not once. 18 months without a cold or flu. I can tell you with 100% certainty that has never happened in my life until now.

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  22. charon says:

    @CSK:

    Well, you seemed to be contesting JJ’s observation about his neck of the woods by calling it “BS.”

    I must have been unclear, I was calling the NYT piece BS. At best, the NYT was generalizing from a cherry-picked specific observation.

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  23. CSK says:

    @charon:
    Thanks; I appreciate the clarification.

    2
  24. Stormy Dragon says:

    Weird thing happening in my area:

    My county is one of the highest in the state for partially vaccinations (72.6%), but well below average for fully vaccinated (48.0%). And this is just due to a three week lag, people seem to have just stopped showing up for their second doses.

    Covid has almost completely disappeared because for the strains we’ve had so far one dose is still pretty effective, but as we’re starting to see variants where one dose is significantly less effective than two, I’m worried we’re setting ourselves up for another wave when all the partially vaccinated people suddenly start spreading it again.

    1
  25. Modulo Myself says:

    Where I am it seems pretty situational. Places you go into to buy things and leave everyone is masked. Places you go into and linger people aren’t always masked and if it’s a restaurant or bar, nobody is. Outside, everyone is unmasked. And on subways everyone is masked.

    Personally, I don’t get why they are a big deal. They’re being worn for the most mundane parts of my life. Last summer, they were terrible to wear outside, and I’m glad not to have them on when it’s 85 out. It would be ridiculous to war them at a restaurant or a bar. But is wearing a mask ruining my experience shopping at the grocery store? I just can’t imagine caring one way or the other.

    3
  26. David S. says:

    @charon: “wined and dined” doesn’t seem like an appropriate description of what happens to supermarket customers. I don’t see how your observations contradict the NYT article’s claims whatsoever. I’d expect to see this contrast primarily in places like offices and schools, where you have plenty of people who aren’t eating and otherwise ingesting via the mouth, versus a number of people providing services in the background, primarily cleaning services. My office building adjoins a hotel, and I also notice this dichotomy in hotel guests, who are often unmasked, and the service workers employed to keep the building running. It’d be harder to perceive the difference at restaurants and bars, since most customers would be doing something with their mouth and they’re below max capacity to account for that, but you’d have to be specifically looking for the people who are loitering around to chat, rather than actually eating and drinking.

    …and now that I’ve read the article, I recall that malls exist.

    Also, it’s probably notable that all the examples are from New York, which is one of the few places with a vaccination pass. The correlation of class separation isn’t terribly surprising given that many people were anticipating class separation due to the pass.

    2
  27. charon says:

    @David S.:

    My core objection to the NYT piece is the approach – taking a bunch of anecdotal observations and generalizing to claims about people’s behavior based on anecdotes. That just looks like wanking to me.

    It’s one thing to look at actual statistics – this for example –

    http://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/c6d0f4921d213d935d5abb3781d086c20c4d356abb4ffa19d0920e88f669d515.jpg

    to infer some projections.

    Drawing conclusions from anecdotes? – validity not so much in my opinion, that’s just pointless wanking.

    2
  28. Gustopher says:

    In the weeks since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revised its mask guidelines to allow fully vaccinated people to take their masks off in most indoor settings, a stark divide has emerged, particularly in wealthier enclaves where services are at a premium

    The World Health Organization recommends vaccinated people continue masking up in many situations to reduce the spread of the Delta variant.

    My current self-imposed rule is indoor spaces require a mask, because I don’t know how their ventilation is, and in outdoor/semi-outdoor spaces I’ll wear a mask if others are wearing masks (it makes them more comfortable, and is easy, but likely unnecessary)

    I also assume every child has or will have covid, and only trust vaccines so much.

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  29. de stijl says:

    @charon:

    Wankdoting is my neologism of the day.

  30. Tony W says:

    The Venn diagram of those who are willing to be vaccinated vs. those who will continue to mask despite being vaccinated is currently being used by Target Corporation as their logo.

    3
  31. DrDaveT says:

    But, here, I’m actually confused when I see customers still wearing masks. Are they unvaccinated? If so, why not? And, if they’re voluntarily refusing to get vaccinated, why mask up?

    I am fully vaccinated, and at very low risk of passing an asymptomatic infection on to someone not yet vaccinated. And yet, I wear a mask in the grocery store, or when I pick up takeout food. Why?

    Because I don’t want the people around me to have to worry about me being a threat. They don’t have to guess whether I’m a fully-vaccinated fellow traveler or an unvaccinated fifth columnist. They don’t need to worry that I don’t take the pandemic seriously.

    It’s called courtesy. Why is it so hard to understand?

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  32. gVOR08 says:

    @DrDaveT:

    It’s called courtesy. Why is it so hard to understand?

    What are you? Some kind of communist?

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  33. de stijl says:

    @de stijl:

    I should have gone with wankdotal.

    1
  34. Tyrell says:

    Masks and distancing here have been gone for a couple of months. The big problem is the mask litter. The parking lots are full of them. On a recent trip I saw several blowing down the beach.
    The other problem is the shortage of workers: longer waits at restaurants.
    “$500 hiring bonus, $20 hr. Start immediately” in one store.
    “Hiring now” signs everywhere. The county government is even needing more dog catchers!

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  35. Another anecdote for the pile: we took the ferry out to Fort Sumter and it was announced that on the two interior decks of the boat, masks were required. Practically no one sitting inside wore masks and apart from the announcement, there was no attempt at enforcement (not that I expected any).

  36. Tyrell says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: At one big store they made an announcement “requesting” people who had not been vaccinated to wear masks. I saw two people wearing masks. Even the workers were not wearing them, except for the people preparing food.
    It was strange how back in January the schools in our state suddenly went from 6ft desk distance to 2ft in one day. Then it was back to full capacity: 30+ kids elbow to elbow in the classrooms.