Editorial: It’s OK to keep your mask on even when you don’t have to

A man wearing a mask carries shopping bags in his hands with other masked people around him
A holiday shopper at the Citadel Outlets in Commerce in November 2020 when the state required everyone to wear a mask in public settings.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Californians who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 are no longer required to wear a face covering in most settings now that the state has lifted pandemic restrictions. Those who have yet to get a jab are not so lucky, though scofflaws probably won’t be tracked down and punished.

But that doesn’t mean that all vaccinated people will choose to expose their faces immediately for a variety of valid reasons. Some people may not be ready to go maskless because of the risk to others. The risk of infection is very low for vaccinated people, but it’s not zero and they can pass it on to others who are not yet fully inoculated. Others do so for their own safety. Vaccines may not work as well for people whose immune systems are compromised.

And that’s OK. In fact, it’s more than OK for people to hold on to their masks. It’s welcome.

Among the few good things to come from the pandemic, such as discouraging handshakes, was the normalization of mask use in the U.S. Many people in Asian societies long ago embraced masks as a courtesy to others when they are sick, and the U.S. should do so too. Now that Americans have become accustomed to the sight of people in public with their noses and mouths covered up, it would be a shame to return to the times when people thought nothing of exposing others to their respiratory ailments. It also turns out that masks offer protection for the wearer as well.

For those in California and other Western states, having an N95 mask on hand during the horrendous firestorms last year made venturing outside amid the smoke and ash considerably less dangerous. And wearing a face covering while in public places can protect the wearer from all manner of nasty infections beyond the coronavirus. Putting a barrier between your hands and mouth decreases the risk of touching something contaminated and introducing it to your body. This is how many dangerous pathogens are transmitted, which is no surprise given that studies have found that humans are constantly fingering their faces.

Of course, some people will continue to eschew masks for political reasons. And that’s their choice, as rude as it may be. But it goes both ways. Mask opponents based their objections to government mandates on the grounds that it impinged on their personal freedom, which in this case meant the freedom to get sick and to infect others. Yet, these same folks often had no problem castigating those who followed the mask rules and their own conscience. It wasn’t for no reason that the state’s new mask guidelines take pains to say that no one can be denied access to a business or prohibited from participating in an activity for choosing to wear a face covering.


For those who decide to keep some type of mask in their personal arsenal, however, please do everyone a favor and choose reusable masks when possible. Those flimsy disposable masks aren’t just bad for the environment, too often they end up strewn in gutters, parking lots and on the side of urban hiking trails. That’s one face covering trend that needs to go.