Why do I still have to wear a mask?

When that second shot went into my arm, it was like a great weight lifted. And Hug Day has come and gone. So folks may be asking, “Really, do I still have to wear a damn mask? Why did I even bother to get vaccinated if nothing changed?”

After all, the vaccines are astonishingly good at preventing death. I will eventually die of something, but the risk of it being COVID-19 has receded to the same ballpark as cancer, heart disease or being hit by a truck. I can take the mask off without being terrified for my own mortality.

I still wear a mask for two reasons. The main reason is, I love my neighbor. Secondly, I’m still not Superman and while COVID may not kill me, it can still make me sicker than a dog.

I love my neighbor. The vaccine prevents death and reduces serious illness, but it isn’t clear yet that it actually prevents COVID-19 infection, as opposed to simply reducing symptoms. The vaccine may actually make it more likely that I am walking around town spewing virus into the air without realizing it. I wear a mask because it’s the kind thing to do for my friends, neighbors and that stranger in the grocery store who may have a health condition.

This is also why I am careful to keep my elementary age child masked. I recently visited new friends to get them signed up for vaccination, and I considered bringing along my son. He’s been isolated for a long time, and it would have been a great cross-cultural experience.  However, I decided to leave him behind, because he’s at school every day and the most likely of us to have an asymptomatic case of COVID-19. The people I was going to help were not vaccinated yet, and I didn’t want my actions to expose them to unnecessary risk.

I lean on a phrase from the Bible to help me decide about mask-wearing: “Everything is lawful but not everything is beneficial.” Wearing a mask for others, which also sets an example when many are simply abandoning it after vaccination, is servant leadership. It’s a slight inconvenience for the sake of others. My freedom should not result in the death or sickness of someone else.

I also still wear a mask in “high risk” situations, because the vaccines are good but not perfect.  There is still a small but not-microscopic chance (about 5% depending on the vaccine) that I can catch COVID-19 and get sick. I may not die of it, but even a “light” unhospitalized case of COVID-19 could be two weeks of hell worse than the flu. I’d rather not go through that.

Once herd immunity is reached, there won’t be enough exposure for this risk to matter. But right now, it’s a real concern.

When will I stop wearing a mask when I’m out and about town?  When the CDC says that scientific evidence — not wishful thinking — says that I can do so.

With vaccination, actually a great deal has actually changed. I can now visit with extended family for the first time in a year. We’re planning a trip to Grandma’s as soon as school is over. I can now socialize with other vaccinated people in small settings without masks. And if I’m exposed to someone with COVID-19, I no longer have to take off of work for two weeks.

But some things haven’t changed. Medium or large indoor gatherings are still a bad idea. I still need to wear a mask around anyone who isn’t vaccinated, including out and about town — especially if they are at high risk of complications.

For those still seeking a way to be vaccinated, I created a printable vaccine guide for The Tyler Loop in English and Spanish for Smith County here

Stephen Fierbaugh was lead IT Project Manager for a large hospital ship being built in China. Now, he’s looking for new places to serve. Are these statistics helpful? Would you like to see similar information for your city or organization? Stephen has his Masters in Intercultural Studies with a focus on ICT4D (technology) and is PMI certified as a Project Management Professional (PMP). Check out his LinkedIn for more examples of his skills and experience.

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