For Ms. Link and others in states with conservative leadership, the emergency had been over for a long time, at least when it came to government rules. Many Republican governors, including the governor of Georgia, Brian Kemp, prohibited localities from requiring masks years ago, leaving the question of pandemic precautions almost entirely up to individuals or businesses.
But even in more liberal places, where masks were the norm throughout the pandemic and are hardly a rarity now, restrictions have long since been lifted.
“I’d be wearing a mask whether they have a mandate or not,” said Karen Stallard, 65, who was carrying groceries from a trip to Trader Joe’s in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago. She has respiratory problems, she said, and calls masks “a medical necessity.” But she added that the choice was a personal one, and should be. As for the federal health emergency, she said: “The time has come for it to end.”
Some said their continued mask wearing was rooted in a sense of social responsibility, out of concern for the elderly stranger one might pass in the supermarket or sit next to on the bus. “We never think about our old,” said Ariel Hsu, a 61-year-old retiree in Los Angeles. “They are the ones who have suffered the most from this.”
Others had more particular reasons. Lindsay Kolasa, 46, a herbalist living in Santa Barbara, Calif., said she wore her mask for her 5-year-old daughter, hoping to keep her safe from all kinds of viruses going around. Anastasia McTague, 28, standing at the front desk of a dry cleaner in Maitland, Fla., said she wore hers for her co-worker, whose mother died of Covid. “She has been kind of anxious about it the whole time, so I continue to wear the mask because it makes her feel better,” she said.
As with vaccine mandates and school closures, there was never a universal embrace of masks. A broad array of medical professionals have strongly encouraged wearing masks and mandates, citing studies that showed that masks slow transmission. But a steadily growing bloc of vocal citizens and public officials have condemned mandates as infringements on personal freedom.