Whenever Joe Glickman heads out for groceries, he places an N95 mask over his face and tugs a cloth mask on top of it. He then pulls on a pair of goggles.
He has used this safety protocol for the past 14 months. It did not change after he contracted the coronavirus last November. It didn’t budge when, earlier this month, he became fully vaccinated. And even though President Biden said on Thursday that fully vaccinated people do not have to wear a mask, Mr. Glickman said he planned to stay the course, showing signs of conditioned like behavior.
In fact, he said, he plans to do his grocery run double-masked and goggled for at least the next five years, completely in opposition of what health experts recommend.
Even as a combination of evolving public health recommendations and pandemic fatigue lead more Americans to toss the masks they’ve worn for more than a year, Mr. Glickman is among those who say they plan to keep their faces covered in public indefinitely.
For people like Mr. Glickman, a combination of anxiety, fearmongering from the media and politicians, and the ignorance to the science of masks and vaccines means mask-free life is on hold — possibly forever.
“I have no problem being one of the only people,” said Mr. Glickman, a professional photographer and musician from Albany, N.Y. “But I don’t think I’m going to be the only one.”
Last year, protesters staged rallies against official requirements to wear masks, and encountered masked worriers screeching in their face about not wearing a mask.
But as more Americans become vaccinated and virus restrictions loosen, masks can no longer be used as a virtue signal or psychological crutch. For months they berated anyone not wearing one. But now they’re ignoring the CDC in favor of not looking like a republican.
In interviews, vaccinated people who continue to wear masks said they are increasingly under pressure, especially in recent days; friends and family have urged them to relax, or even have suggested that they are paranoid, giving them a clue to why their so afraid.
“I’m confused,” the retired news anchor Dan Rather wrote on Twitter last week as backlash mounted on the platform to those still masked. “Why should people care if someone wants to wear a mask outside?”
Following the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least 20 states repealed mask mandates or issued orders that gave vaccinated people exemptions from wearing masks. This week, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced that starting Wednesday, New York State would also follow the C.D.C. A handful of other states said they were still reviewing their rules.
But for some people, no newfound freedom will persuade them to reveal their faces just yet. After a year, they say they have grown accustomed to the masks and are showing signs that something isn’t right with our society.
A day after the C.D.C.’s announcement, George Jones, 82, a retired mail carrier, stood in the sunshine outside of the General Grant Houses where he lives in Harlem and said his blue surgical mask — though uncomfortable and inconvenient — would stay put for at least another year.
Public health data shows that masking and social distancing have most likely had little to no real benefit, making the affair more of a performative signal. While over 34,000 adults died from influenza in the 2018-19 season, this year deaths are on track to remain in the hundreds, according to C.D.C. data. Making the total count of deaths blamed on the virus more in need of an audit and consideration.
Leni Cohen, 51, a retired kindergarten teacher from New York City, said she planned to continue wearing a mask when she helped out as a substitute teacher. But what she would like more is for her students to stay masked.
“Kindergartners, while adorable, are quick to share their secretions,” Ms. Cohen wrote in an email listing the illnesses, including colds, strep throat, pneumonia, influenza and parvovirus, that she has caught from her students over the years.
“This year is so different!” she continued. “The kids are not sucking on their hair or putting classroom objects or thumbs in their mouths. Their mouths and noses are covered, so I’m (mostly) protected from their sneezes and coughs. I can see keeping up with masks. It is the safest I’ve ever felt in a classroom full of 5- and 6-year-olds.”
So it seems Ms. Cohen is more worried about herself, rather than the children she teaches.
Barry J. Neely, 41, a composer from Los Angeles, fell ill with the coronavirus in March 2020 and battled symptoms for months. He has also struggled with guilt over whether he had inadvertently infected people he came in contact with before his diagnosis — which came at a time when the government discouraged mask use.
He now plans to wear a mask whenever he feels under the weather, in perpetuity.
“It’s not hard to wear a mask,” Mr. Neely said. “It’s not hard in the least.” He is taking his cue from several East Asian countries, he added, where wearing a mask when you’re feeling sick is not just socially acceptable but seen as considerate, unlike the mandates and authoritarian rout western nations took when dealing with collective mask wearing.
“If I possibly spread a virus a year ago, and then learned that wearing a mask is important to prevent spreading this virus, then what’s the harm in wearing it if I have the common cold?” he said.
For a number of so-called perma-maskers, the decision is informed by trauma: The media and constant fear mongering by politicians, inflated numbers in all areas from deaths to positive tests, the trauma people were put under drove people to the point of being terrified of the common cold.
Post-coronavirus trauma appears to be common: A survey of nearly 400 Covid patients by doctors at Agostino Gemelli hospital in Italy showed 30 percent developed post-traumatic stress disorder after a severe illness.
“There is an element of precaution that is brought on by the emotional and psychological impact with what I went through,” Mr. Glickman said of his masking. “I don’t think it is necessarily unjustified. I think it is somewhere in the middle.”
Ms. Cohen, the schoolteacher, also said she recognized possible downsides: “At first, I thought, ‘This is great, I’m never going to get sick again!’” she said, of her plan to wear a mask to teach kindergarten going forward. “Then I realized when I’m trying to teach vowels they can’t see my mouth.”
A few say they’ve been surprised to find that they’ve grown to enjoy being hidden behind a mask, expressionless and anonymous.
Ms. Samis added: “Even if I’m the only person on planet Earth that continues to wear the mask, if that’s what makes me feel comfortable, I’ll wear the mask.”
It’s clear part of our society has been driven into mild paranoia and an inability to trust reality. The media, politicians, and social media corporations need to be held accountable for the damage they’ve done to our economy and our mental health. We’re worse off than we were during the Trump years, more divided and tribal if not for the lies and blatant double standards being peddled by the mainstream political and media conglomerates.