Hersh Shefrin, a mild-mannered behavioral economist at Santa Clara University, still wears a mask when he goes out in public. In fact, he wears two masks: an N95 medical-grade mask, and another cloth mask on top. “I’m in a vulnerable group. I still believe in masking,” Shefrin, 75, told MarketWatch. It’s worked so far: He never did get COVID-19. Given his age, he is in a high-risk category for complications, so he believes in taking such precautions.
But not everyone is happy to see a man in a mask in September 2023. “A lot of people just want to be over this,” Shefrin, who lives in Menlo Park, Calif., said. “Wearing a mask in public generates anger in some people. I’ve had people come up to me and set me straight on why people should not wear masks. I’ve had people yell at me in cars. It might not match with where they are politically, or they genuinely feel that the risks are really low.”
His experience speaks to America in 2023. Our attitude to COVID-related risk has shifted dramatically, and seeing a person wearing a mask may give us anxiety. But how will we look back on this moment — 3½ years since the start of the coronavirus pandemic? Will we think, “There was a mild wave of COVID, but we got on with it”? Or say, “We were so traumatized back then, dealing with the loss of over 1.1 million American lives, and struggling to cope with a return to normal life”?
We live in a postpandemic era of uncertainty and contradiction. Acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, or SARS-CoV-2, is back, yet it never really went away. Roughly a quarter of the population has never tested positive for COVID, but some people have had it twice or three times. Few people are wearing masks nowadays, and the World Health Organization recently published its last weekly COVID update. It will now put out a new report every four weeks.
“‘I’ve had people come up to me and set me straight on why people should not wear masks.’”
People appear sanguine about the latest booster, despite the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommending that people get the updated shot. Fewer than a quarter of Americans (23%) said they were “definitely” planning to get this shot, according to a report released this week by KFF, the nonprofit formerly known as the Kaiser Family Foundation. Some 23% said they will “probably get it,” 19% said they will “probably not get it” and 33% will “definitely not get it.”
Do we throw caution to the wind and treat fall and winter…