Will you wear your mask this week? With new U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines loosening restrictions for COVID-19 vaccinated people, many questions remain about personal and public safety, masking, social distancing and hand hygiene.

“Who was that masked man?” This was the closing line on a popular TV series of the 1950s in which the Lone Ranger, wearing a mask over his eyes, not his mouth and nose, bustled around the Wild West fighting bad guys. He wore the mask to conceal that though he was supposedly dead, along with five of his companion Texas Rangers killed in an ambush, he was still up and kicking on his white steed named Silver. His trusty sidekick, Tonto, who found him alive after the ambush, nursed him back to health and accompanied him in his various quests for justice.

Maybe like the Lone Ranger, after being masked for so long, we’re a bit unsure, despite new CDC guidelines and Dr. Anthony Fauci’s comments on CNN of what’s next on the mask issue. If you’re vaccinated, you’re unlikely to catch or spread COVID-19. Fauci said the new guidelines don’t change anything for those who haven’t been vaccinated.

Children will need to continue to wear masks at school through the end of the academic year. Businesses and restaurants can continue their policies of masking consonant with local and state guidelines. Public transportation like trains, boats and planes are likely to continue masking requirements. Hospitals and doctor’s offices will continue to have masking. Vaccination status may be needed, along with your passport, to get on a cruise ship.

At the University of Texas Medical Branch, we will continue to ask screening questions about COVID-19 at doctor’s visits. We will mainstream our sick patients back into primary care clinics starting Monday rather than referring them to the specialized COVID-only clinics for diagnosis and treatment.

This is a welcome development as the traditional flu, cold and allergy seasons have been limited by masking and social distancing. We didn’t see much, if any, of a flu season this year. Still, these other conditions remain bothersome and can lead to complications. If anything, they need more attention and reassurance than ever as their symptoms can be confounded with COVID-19. Better to be seen in your own doctor’s office where you always took such problems before and where your history is well known and documented.

Like so much of the changing terrain last year, the mask situation remains fluid and changes to policies and guidelines will continue to evolve. Be on the lookout for a mix of models: no employee masks, full masking for all employees and customers, masking going to your table but not while eating, no masks required here but definitely required there, no masks outdoors except in big groups. In other words, keep your mask at the ready as we’re still in an honor system to protect each other. There are no vaccine police.

Be patient, be kind, be safe, be vaccinated and get the children their jabs as well.

“You have to be able to imagine lives that are not yours.” — Wendell Berry

Dr. Victor S. Sierpina is the WD and Laura Nell Nicholson Family Professor of Integrative Medicine and Professor of Family Medicine at UTMB.

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