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The World Might Be 'Moving On,' But I'm Still Scared of COVID-19

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“Now I feel like I might get fired for wearing a mask…”

Last week, my partner and I spent nearly 30 minutes discussing the most recent updates regarding her workplace’s COVID-19 protocols. The biggest change was the company’s decision to drop their long-standing mask mandate, a change which her boss applauded and proceeded to use as a justification to no longer even offer masks to the clients.

While this may not seem like a big deal to most individuals given that new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to decrease within the United States, it’s a big deal to my partner who is an immunocompromised social worker for a local psycho-social rehab program. She, like many other high-risk individuals, has done everything in her power to “stay safe” over the past two years, despite what the rest of the world has chosen to do (or not do).

This workplace protocol change is one of many signs of the world moving on that I’ve personally noticed lately. For example, I went into my youngest daughter’s parent-teacher conference the other afternoon and noticed the teachers in staff staring as I walked down the hallway with a mask on. The classroom showed almost no signs of the past two years, with desks back in their normal arrangements, shared resources placed in easy-to-reach locations, and no masks to be seen.

I also received an email over the weekend stating masks and proof of vaccination are no longer required to attend local symphony concerts, something my partner and I had been doing for a safe date night option over the past several months. Knowing how close the seats are arranged within the symphony hall, and knowing the beliefs of most of the people who live in this region of the country, I worry how safe I’ll feel going to the next concert.

In some ways, I understand. Nearly three-fourths of the country is now vaccinated, and transmission rates were down. Many individuals feel safe and don’t see how things like masks or social distancing will help them at this point. At the same time, though, the pandemic isn’t over, and the blatant disregard for that scares me.

Based on the past two years, I think fear about people letting their guard down or moving on too soon is justified. There’s no way for us to know what variants of the virus might be waiting around the corner, nor do we know for sure how long the vaccine will remain effective. Some experts speculate that COVID-19 will become like the flu, while others still maintain that “the endemic is near.”

Even more so, I think the conflicting requests and judgments depending on who we are around add another layer to the fear we feel every time we step outside. The silent stares, or worse, the comments about how I “don’t need to wear those [masks] anymore” cause me to feel like I can’t win with anyone.

I feel like we’ve gone beyond the realm of freedom to decide whether or not you want to protect yourself and others against COVID-19 to a “my way or the highway” mentality, which is never what people at higher risk for virus-related complications ever intended.

Personally, I understand why even perfectly healthy people are still apprehensive to toss off their masks, just like I understand why most of the world has been so quick to discard them each time the transmission rate decreases. I’m still wearing my mask where it makes sense because, well, one of the people I love the most in this world needs me to stay healthy.

Regardless of where you stand on the topic of masks or vaccines or anything really, though, the reality is it’s still your choice. You’re allowed to continue wearing masks even if there’s not a mandate. You’re allowed to avoid crowds while everyone else packs into concert arenas. You’re allowed to feel scared as the world returns to the way it was before COVID.

Originally published: March 23, 2022
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