Why I Still Wear a Mask


A few weeks ago, I was at an event where most people were maskless (as usual) and I was rocking my trusty KF94 (as usual). One of the people there said, in front of me, “People who are still wearing a mask are probably terrified of COVID,” and I was like, “Excuse me??” and then the conversation moved on. It was a very quick exchange, but it has stuck with me, because now I wonder if everyone thinks I’m terrified of COVID. To be absolutely clear: I am not.

But it is fair for people to wonder why I continue to wear a mask, when so many people have apparently ditched the masks for good. This article is my attempt to set the record straight and answer the question, once and for all.

I do want to make one thing clear, before I really get into it. Although it may sometimes seem like it, I do not have a problem with anyone else choosing not to wear a mask. It is your choice. Wearing a mask is the right choice for me, and not wearing a mask might be the right choice for you, and that’s totally fine.

The most straightforward reason for why I wear a mask all the time is simply that I’ve gotten into the habit of masking, and it’s much easier for me to stick to a blanket rule (always mask, except when eating or actively filming/taking a picture) than have to evaluate every situation individually. Because this is my habit, I don’t tend to think about it that much on a daily basis. I just put on a mask when I head out the same way I put on my shoes whenever I head out. Writing this is forcing me to actually think through why I made this decision.

I also don’t usually think about why other people choose not to wear a mask (because, again, it’s just part of our daily lives now), but I wanted to really try to understand it in order to write this. I remember, early on in the pandemic, we were all excited for it to be over. We hoped that when vaccines were available, life would go back to normal and we would stop having to mask all the time. As far as I can tell, a lot of people think we’ve now reached that point. Which is fair, honestly. If you are vaccinated and not at high risk of serious illness, and so is everyone in your immediate circle, then it’s okay to decide you’re not really concerned about getting COVID anymore and you’re done wearing a mask. I can understand that.

The most immediate reason I continue to wear a mask is that I do have family members who are at high risk. I really don’t want to get COVID (or any other respiratory illness) and pass it on to them. The slim benefit I might get by going maskless does not make up for the very real potential of a bad situation.

The second reason I continue to wear a mask is that I don’t think it’s accurate to say that the pandemic is over. Cases are still high, and hospitals are still packed. I want to do my part to reduce community transmission in order to protect people at high risk and reduce stress on the health care system.

Besides those primary reasons, there are lots of other reasons I continue to wear a mask. Here are a few more: I do not want to catch COVID and have to quarantine, potentially missing out on events that are important to me. I do not want to catch the flu or any other respiratory illnesses going around. Wearing a mask just makes me feel more safe. Other people who continue to mask may have similar or different reasons.

The combination of all of these benefits far outweighs the potential benefits of unmasking. Honestly, I think not wearing a mask is highly overrated. People have been complaining about masking for the entire pandemic, and I have never understood it. If you are wearing a well-fitting mask, it can actually be very comfortable. It’s not hard to breathe, or talk, or express emotion with a mask on. I have been wearing a mask while I dance for more than a year at this point, and I have completely gotten used to it. (The form of dance that I do is incredibly intense; it’s like sprinting for a minute and a half while keeping a pleasant expression on your face. Do not even try to argue that this form of physical exertion is less valid.)

I do want to acknowledge that there are situations where not wearing a mask is the right choice. For instance, people who communicate with sign language or by reading lips need to be able to see people’s full faces; acting and singing are much easier without masks; and people with some disabilities can’t wear a mask for medical reasons. I’m sure there are many other situations where this is true, and they might not always be clearly evident. Also, of course, I understand that people choose not to wear a mask, even if they have no specific reason, and that’s also valid. I’m not judging, genuinely.

Even if you typically make a different choice than me and tend not to wear a mask, there are situations where I would strongly urge you to wear a mask anyway. I’ll quote from an actual expert here, Syra Madad, senior director of the systemwide special pathogens program at New York City Health + Hospitals, as interviewed by the New York Times in the article “It’s Time to Wear a Mask Again, Health Experts Say” from December 2022. “When weighing when and where to mask, Dr. Madad recommended paying attention to the “Three Cs”: close contact, crowded spaces, and confined places with poor ventilation. The experts urged wearing masks while traveling on planes and public transportation, and they strongly suggested doing it while out shopping for groceries and gifts. For smaller holiday parties with people you know, it’s fine to forgo masks if guests test beforehand and stay home if they’re feeling rundown.”

Also, I would strongly encourage you to consider wearing a mask for a few weeks right after the break. There are a lot of diseases going around, and everyone has just spent time with family or traveling or generally being exposed to different things. We’ve had a COVID spike after winter break every year for exactly this reason. (But again, no pressure. I won’t get mad at you for not wearing a mask. I just think it’s a really good idea.)

“After the Pandemic”, a comic by Randall Munroe from April 2021.

Finally, if you are sick, please please please wear a mask. I do not want you to cough on me. I do not care if you think you’re no longer contagious or if “it’s just allergies” or if you’ve tested and you don’t have COVID. There are lots of diseases you could have besides COVID, and I don’t want any of them. And it will stress me out to hear that awful wet cough coming from someone not wearing a mask.

At some point, I will probably stop masking all the time. I don’t know when that will be, given that COVID seems to be sticking around and I’ve gotten so used to masks by now. Even then, I will probably still mask in some situations, like when I’m traveling or during the height of cold and flu season. For now, I will continue to rock my KF94 for the foreseeable future.

So if you see people wearing masks, please don’t assume that we are terrified of COVID. Understand that there are lots of reasons why we made the choice to wear a mask, just like there were lots of reasons you may have made the choice to not wear a mask. And maybe, just maybe, consider wearing a mask in some situations, even if you don’t do so normally.

(Also, regardless of whether you choose to wear a mask: if you are still not fully vaccinated against COVID, and you are able to get vaccinated, please please please do so. Even though vaccinated people can still get sick with COVID, they are much less likely to die due to COVID, and presumably less likely to suffer severe illness, although that isn’t represented in the data.)