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Here’s what you need to know.

By Jessica Migala
April 05, 2021
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Now that you're fully vaccinated, you're ready to finally head out without a mask. But don't put that mask away yet.

When you go to the grocery store, you'll need to sport the mask. As recently as last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that even vaccinated people need to wear a mask when in public and continue to maintain physical distancing.

Why vaccinated people need to keep wearing masks

For one, at this point, you'd probably get a lot of weird looks if you go in maskless—assuming someone would let you in the store—because fellow customers can't be sure you're vaccinated just by looking at you. (And how would this be monitored and managed by staff?)

But the larger issue is about public health. Right now, we just don't know if vaccinated people can continue to transmit the virus, says epidemiologist Henry F. Raymond, DrPH, MPH, associate professor at the Rutgers School of Public Health in Piscataway, New Jersey. Experts continue to debate this ongoingly, but no clear consensus has yet emerged.

And since it's unknown if vaccinated people can be asymptomatic spreaders of the virus, you'd also be walking down the aisles performing mental gymnastics about if you're putting others in harm's way. Could that person passing you next to the dairy case be unvaccinated but have an underlying condition that makes them more susceptible to severe illness, like heart disease or diabetes, Raymond asks. That's not a responsibility that you want.

In other words, we're not there yet. Some people may wonder why they should get vaccinated if it doesn't afford them the liberty to shed the mask when out, but there's more to it. "The reason we get vaccinated is not just for ourselves, but also to protect other people," he says.

Grocery Shopping with Mask
Credit: Getty / andresr

Some returns to "normal" grocery shopping

Lastly, it's completely true that the way we shopped at the beginning of the pandemic—very few people in the store, slathering on sanitizer, wiping down groceries—has changed. And that is completely reasonable. "As our science and understanding has become updated, we've been adjusting the things we do. This will be the same throughout the pandemic," says Raymond.

The bottom line: Stay masked

It may be uncomfortable, but the simplest thing to do right now is wear a mask inside the grocery store, whether you've gotten your shot(s) or not.