On May 13, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidelines on mask wearing, now advising that if you have been fully vaccinated, you no longer have to wear a mask indoors.
There are exceptions to the new guidelines, however, with masks still being required for anyone who is visiting a hospital or travelling on public transportation, regardless of vaccination status.
Even with those limitations, the new guidelines are a huge step towards returning closer to how life was in pre-Covid days, when a person could enjoy the simple pleasure of trading a smile with a stranger as they shopped for clothing or groceries.
As restrictions are continually being lifted and guidelines are getting less strict, people across Central Queens are finding themselves balancing their desire to return to normal and shed their masks, with their concern for their own safety.
An unscientific canvass in the areas around Austin Street and Metropolitan Avenue in Forest Hills and the Queens Center mall in Elmhurst checked to see what people thought of the new guidelines, and if they would start following them and stop wearing their masks indoors.
People want to ensure that if they do in fact drop their masks, they will be safe in doing so.
Mahalia Williams-Superville, a city nurse from Brooklyn, expressed concerns over the safety of not wearing a mask indoors. She believes the new guidelines were motivated by a desire to get the economy back up and running — “They need to get the economy going, kids have got to go back to school” — but that for her, safety is the top priority, especially since she works at a city hospital.
“I’m a nurse so for me personally, it’s about safety, maybe once more people have been vaccinated, I’ll feel more comfortable.”
Williams-Superville went on to explain that even though she is fully vaccinated, the new guidelines have had no bearing on whether she will wear her mask indoors. What she is waiting for before she can feel safe is herd immunity.
“I’m waiting for it to get to 70 percent herd immunity,” she said.
Newcomers to the borough, David Colicchio and Jane Anthony, just moved to Forest Hills from Westchester. They said even though they are fully vaccinated and trust that the vaccine works, they will continue to wear their masks indoors.
“I trust the vaccine, but I think for me at least, it’s more of a mental thing, of slowly getting used to things, and things going back to normal,” Anthony said.
“I’m still going to wear a mask; anywhere that asks, I’m going to have a mask in my pocket,” added Colicchio.
Not quite new to the borough, two long-term residents of Forest Hills, the Spiros, husband and wife, also are fully vaccinated. But they are going to continue to wear their masks indoors.
He expressed his doubts about the new guidelines, and fears that they could be taken advantage of by anti-vaxxers looking to shed their masks.
“That’s my hesitation with the CDC guideline,” he said. “The problem is that it says, ‘if you’re vaccinated,’ but there are anti-vaxxers who say, ‘Who’s gonna know?’”
His wife echoed the notion of uncertainty, saying that when she and her husband are among family members, they don’t wear masks.
When they go to places surrounded by people whom they can’t be sure of, they will use them.
“We carry our masks with us and when we go inside any public place, we use it,” she said. “When we are inside with family members who have been vaccinated, no.”
Her husband also expressed how he thought the indoor mask mandate in stores should be kept in place, not only for the safety of shoppers, but for that of the staff.
Jonathon Ramos from Rego Park, who said he was not vaccinated, believes that many vaccinated people are cherry-picking what CDC guidelines to follow. But he doesn’t think that’s a fair way of looking at things.
“What is the point of getting the vaccine if you don’t think it is going to work?” he asked. “If you have been trusting the CDC for months and believe that the vaccine is safe like they say, then why not trust them now when they say to take off your mask?”
Over on the eastern side of Queens, Mary McKenna from Glen Oaks said even though she is fully vaccinated, she plans to continue wearing her mask indoors, because she knows that the CDC has made mistakes before regarding mask wearing.
“For now, I’m going to keep wearing my mask indoors, to be safe — it’s just too soon to tell,” she said. “At first, they said masks didn’t work. They could be wrong again.”
In Floral Park, Sunny Singh, owner of Singas Famous Pizza, said the new guidelines will not affect how he runs his business. He still has no dining in, and anybody who steps foot in the shop must still wear a mask.
Singh thinks the new guidelines could be taken advantage of by people who haven’t been vaccinated but don’t want to wear a mask, rhetorically posing the question “how do I know who is vaccinated?”
Alvaro Merizalde, manager of Floral Park Wine and Liquor, said he has been adhering to the CDC guidelines all along; so now if the CDC says it is OK for vaccinated individuals to go without masks indoors, he has no problem with that.
“I’m running a business so I don’t want people to be uncomfortable, but now that they say it is OK, I’m OK with it.”
Merizalde added that while he is OK with people following the new guidelines in his shop, to ensure that all of his customers still feel safe, he is asking to see people’s vaccination cards.
“Most of the time they show it,” he said.