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“I’m in no hurry; why should I be in a hurry?” said Mr. Jones, who became fully vaccinated about a month and a half ago. Until New York City reaches a higher level of vaccination — just 40 percent are completely vaccinated — he believes it’s too risky to unmask. “Being around is more important. That’s what counts. I’m an old man — I’d like to be around as long as I can.”
On Broadway, a group of young men walked past him, with not a mask in sight. Mr. Jones said he understood: “Young people, they figure they’re invulnerable — and I hope they are.”
Public health data shows that masking and social distancing have most likely had far-reaching positive impacts, beyond slowing the spread of Covid-19. While over 34,000 adults died from influenza in the 2018-19 season, this year deaths are on track to remain in the hundreds, according to C.D.C. data. Mask wearers say their seasonal allergy symptoms seem to be lessened.
Leni Cohen, 51, a retired kindergarten teacher from New York City who has a compromised immune system, said she planned to continue wearing a mask when she helped out as a substitute teacher. But what she would like more is for her students to stay masked.
“Kindergartners, while adorable, are quick to share their secretions,” Ms. Cohen wrote in an email listing the illnesses, including colds, strep throat, pneumonia, influenza and parvovirus, that she has caught from her students over the years.
“This year is so different!” she continued. “The kids are not sucking on their hair or putting classroom objects or thumbs in their mouths. Their mouths and noses are covered, so I’m (mostly) protected from their sneezes and coughs. I can see keeping up with masks. It is the safest I’ve ever felt in a classroom full of 5- and 6-year-olds.”
Barry J. Neely, 41, a composer from Los Angeles, fell ill with the coronavirus in March 2020 and battled symptoms for months. He has also struggled with guilt over whether he had inadvertently infected people he came in contact with before his diagnosis — which came at a time when the government discouraged mask use.