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Opinion: Do you feel naked without a mask in public - or just free?

Are you continuing to mask up in public?
woman-face-mask-shopping
A woman wears a non-medical face mask while grocery shopping. Photo: iStock/Getty Images

Having grown accustomed to wearing masks, our stepwise return to normal doesn’t feel normal at all.

How do you feel stepping out in public without a mask? Naked or free? Relieved or somewhat anxious?

You are not alone if you feel uncertain. In fact, difficult choices in the face of uncertainty have challenged us throughout this pandemic.

Are we nearing the end or are we in a hopeful pause before the fourth wave?

On the positive side, vaccinations have clearly reduced our new case counts and hospitalizations to the point that we are progressing along B.C.’s Restart Plan.

We are now in Step 3, with normal personal gatherings and indoor and outdoor dining without limits to the number of people at your table.

Our ubiquitous face masks are no longer mandatory though still recommended in indoor public places for those 12 years and older who are not fully vaccinated (i.e. at least 14 days after your 2nd shot). 

And if our new infection and hospitalization numbers remain low, we will see an essentially full reopening on September 7th.

But until further notice, hospitals and medical clinics are maintaining our pandemic safety plans with mandatory surgical masks for patients and staff.

The opening up of businesses and other social activities and the dropping of the public mask mandate may lead many to underestimate the real risk of infection this summer and fall. Though vaccinations likely reduce the risk of serious COVID-19 infections with the delta and lambda variants, they are thought to be more easily transmissible. If these variants take hold as they have in other countries, our relaxed public health restrictions may allow a fourth wave.

This time, the most vulnerable are not the elderly - most of whom are fully vaccinated.

Today, those at highest risk are the unvaccinated.

Don’t think of them as anti-vaxxers or non-believers in the herd immunity of mass vaccinations. Many of the unvaccinated are children under 12 for whom the vaccines have not yet been approved. Others are those with medical conditions that preclude or reduce the effectiveness of the vaccines.

The majority of my work is still virtual (phone with some video). We still see a small number of patients in person each day when an in-person assessment is needed.

In my calls, I ask my patients about their vaccination status and address their questions. Although the vast majority of them have had at least their first vaccine, a few remain uncertain, and they are not anti-vaxxers; their children have had their childhood vaccinations. They are uncertain because of the reports of rare vaccination side effects and the relatively recent development of the COVID-19 vaccines. The sheer quantity of information and opinions has been overwhelming. Many say they are waiting out for a little more information or time to pass.

I respect their decisions, remind them that the very small risks are far outweighed by the personal benefits of vaccination, and ask them to keep wearing face masks, limit their exposure in public places and carefully screen others who enter their bubbles.

Dr. Davidicus Wong is a family physician. His Healthwise Column appears regularly in this paper. For more on achieving your positive potential in health, read his blog at davidicuswong.wordpress.com.