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To Mask or Not to Mask? That Is the Question

Mayo Clinic doctor uncovers the truth about wearing a mask

Let me start with the bottom line: Those of us who have been wearing masks will likely continue to wear masks in most situations for months to come. Those who have resisted or don’t understand their own risks will continue to put themselves and others at risk by not wearing masks when mask-wearing would be quite appropriate.

Now, that’s it. You can go on about your day, masked or maskless, or you can find out the truth about what I know as your trusted doctor.

The CDC jumped the gun on mask-wearing for vaccinated people. We so desperately want to be back to our new normal that we aren’t listening to the message about risk. We could be endangering ourselves and others.

Let me now tell you what I plan to do as a fully vaccinated, two-shot, know-my-risks guy and as someone who, like you, does not want to get COVID-19 or suffer its long-term consequences of which we know very little:

  • Outdoors: No mask on my runs, but if I stop and talk to someone, I pull out my mask and put it on.

  • In the car: No mask if my wife and I are together. Mask on if anyone else is in the car with us especially if a passenger is at high risk because of significant other health conditions such as heart or lung issues.

  • Walking outside at a farmers’ market or flea market: Mask on.

  • At the gym: I don’t go to the gym now. But if you do, wear a mask.

  • Meetings: Wear a mask. You don’t know the vaccination status of anyone else. And at most meetings, individuals are not of our household.

  • At work: If you’re headed back to the office, mask up unless your workstation is isolated and protected and distanced, then mask off at your desk. Wipe down the surfaces if you share common work spaces. Keep hand sanitizer on your desk and use it often.

  • Grocery store, post office, and similar public places: Mask on.

  • Shopping: At Walmart and other big box stores, even though they are relaxing their policies about requiring masks, I will wear one.

  • Doctors’ offices, any medical facility: Mask on. The providers will be wearing masks too.

  • Rock concerts and other outdoor events such as Little League games or your grandchild’s soccer match: Mask on (unless you sit far away in the bleachers). A picnic in the park with your family in your bubble, no mask needed.

  • Dining out: Mask on to enter a restaurant. Request a table away from others. Then you may remove your mask. If dining outdoors, make sure tables are distanced and servers are wearing masks. But if you’re dining with people not in your bubble, if you don’t know their vaccination status, why risk sitting side-by-side with them or across a table? Take a picnic lunch outside and distance.

  • Bars, casinos, and crowded restaurants: Won’t even go there.

  • Planes, trains, buses, subways, Uber: Wear a mask. No negotiation here.

  • Elevators: If others are present, don your mask. Or wait for the next car.

  • Schools: Wear a mask if visiting your child’s school. If you are attending in-person classes, wear a mask.

  • Church: Wear a mask, even as you depart and talk with parishioners in the parking lot.

What We Know

The vaccines while not foolproof are highly effective and seem to be protective against the mutant strains, which are deemed to be more transmissible than the original COVID-19.

Yet despite high degrees of effectiveness, you and I are still at risk for developing mild forms of the disease and are subject to developing the long COVID syndrome, which has affected, according to some studies, most individuals who did survive COVID. This is an obscure, profoundly debilitating constellation of symptoms that may last for up to a year or longer.

Long COVID sufferers may develop impairment in concentration, shortness of breath, intestinal disorders and vague aches and pains, which have defied explanation. For many, their senses of smell and taste have returned but might be different (such as sensitivity to something in particular).

The question for each of us is this: Are you willing to risk this illness especially if you have personal risk factors that make you susceptible to COVID such as heart and lung disease, or if you take immunosuppressive medications, or if you are overweight and more prone to COVID-19, or if you are a caregiver for someone with a weakened immune system or visit Grandma at the nursing home?

Only you can assess your own risks and make choices about your health in this matter and in all others. But to protect us all, we need full vaccination across the population with the safe vaccines available now, respect for others in social settings, and a mask in your pocket or purse ready to hook behind your ears when the situation warrants.

When you smile, even with a mask on, your eyes smile too. Be safe out there.


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