Doctors explain psychological impact ditching masks will have on society

WALNUT CREEK, Calif. -- Our masks were a symbol of responsibility, of protecting other people. Now that several states are going maskless, is continuing to wear one a sign of vulnerability or even paranoia?

Doctors say there is psychology at play.

A new day dawned at the Tellus Coffee shop in downtown Walnut Creek, California as the first customer came in with no mask on.

The owner, Janay McCullough said, "'Oh my God, my first maskless customer. It's so good to see your face,' and he ordered his coffee. Then three other groups came in after him that were all masked, saw he wasn't wearing a mask, and gave him the dirtiest looks."

Experts say that's the thing. Are we going to start judging others because they're still wearing a mask? Or judging them because they aren't wearing one? It's a big social change, and a big psychological change, that many people are going to have to wrestle with.

In the early part of this transition to non-mask wearing, there are going to be some trust issues, according to Dr. Michael Stanton, a clinical psychologist as well as a public health professor at Cal State East Bay.

He says, "Whether you're wearing a mask or not, you're going to feel closer to people who are doing whatever you're doing. It takes about a month to change a habit, and for us to feel comfortable, so we may see a heightened level of anxiety for people who don't feel safe."

It was a mixed bag of people out on the streets. Some were still wearing masks, even outdoors. One man said that masks may be a kind of pacifier for some people, making them feel more comfortable.

Jessie Karadonis was out without a mask with her four-month-old son. She said, "There are some people out there who are vaccinated and will continue to wear a mask - my husband is one of those people - and I'd say if that's what makes you feel safe, then go for it. "

Another maskless man admitted, "I don't want to push judgment, I know people who are immune-compromised, but there's going to be some of that stigma to it."

Bottom line: Think of the next few weeks as a reintroduction to society. The transition starts now.
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