Return to indoor mask ­mandate can increase stress and anxiety

Return to indoor mask ­mandate can increase stress and anxiety
Concord Dairy Queen employees, from left, Crystal Tranate, Kashvi Patel and Khatira Kakar serve customers on Aug. 5, two days after the start of the recent indoor mask mandate. The three workers, all college students, are vaccinated, and Patel said people entering the Clayton Road business seemed to have no reservations wearing masks.  (Karen Jenkins photo)

CONCORD, CA — The siblings focused momentarily on the transfer of chocolate-dipped vanilla ice cream cones from their dad’s hands to theirs.

Receiving them like pros, each made one final adjustment before tasting their frozen treats: lowering their face masks. Then the older one answered the question posed a moment earlier.

“It’s fine. It doesn’t bug me at all,” said Elouise McClay, 9, wearing her blue face mask at Dairy Queen in Concord on Aug. 5.

Her brother Rory, 7, in a green and yellow Oakland Athletics face covering, agreed.

Children under 12 – the minimum age to be vaccinated for COVID-19 – and others who are unvaccinated are no longer the only people expected to wear masks indoors in public places. On Aug. 3, Contra Costa County Health Services mandated masks for use indoors in public places for everyone, regardless of vaccination status, because of rising cases of COVID-19 and concern over the highly contagious Delta variant.

The order comes just six weeks after county health officials lifted restrictions, allowing those who have received the COVID-19 vaccine to go maskless indoors and urging those who are unvaccinated to continue to mask up. Seven other Bay Area counties and the city of Berkeley have imposed the same restrictions.

Emotional roller coaster

The renewed dictum to mask up comes as many expected society to be returning to normal, leading to stress and anxiety for people already fatigued from navigating 18 months of a pandemic, said Dr. Michael Stanton, assistant professor of public health at Cal State East Bay.

“I know from speaking to my patients, to students and to family members that the change in the mask mandate and asking vaccinated people to wear masks now after presumably not wearing masks for the last month or so after being vaccinated has been really challenging,” said Stanton, a clinical psychologist. “It certainly has raised feelings of anxiety, raised feelings of worry and raised stress.”

Stanton said one way to counter the emotions is to maintain social interactions.
“Even though we still have to be careful with wearing a mask indoors, we should be finding our friends, going outside in the fresh air and continuing to be with each other,” he said.

Another calming measure is self-care, including consistent exercise, diet and sleep. “This is a tough time,” Stanton said. “Remember to take breaks, to take care of yourself.”

Learning to adapt

The McClay children and their dad had stopped at the Dairy Queen two days into the new mandate. Masks were also required when the kids returned to school at El Monte Elementary on Aug. 12.

“I’m not happy about it, but I guess the Delta variant is very contagious,” said dad Kyle McClay.

Jann Gorski, getting an afternoon ice cream to go, said she continued wearing a mask in public even after getting vaccinated. “I’m fine with it,” said Gorski.

But she couldn’t hide her frustration over the need for the renewed mask order. “If anything, it just bewilders me that we couldn’t do it right the first time.”

At Tomizaki’s Champions Kung Fu in Concord, instructor Braydan Tomizaki watched and corrected teens practicing their moves in the parking lot on Aug. 5.

“It presents some challenges, but we’re making it work,” said Tomizaki, whose family has operated the studio since 2007.

Minimizing risks

Concord pediatrician Dr. Kelly Beatty urged people to be patient with changing health rules, including wearing masks. “This virus is brand new. We did not have a playbook,” said Beatty, who works at Pinwheel Pediatrics.

“I feel that wearing a mask outside your home can prevent a potential deadly virus, or one with very significant effects,” Beatty said. “All we can hope for is that people and families take all the measures they can to minimize the risks. If it means being slightly uncomfortable with wearing a mask, it’s still better than ending up sick or in the hospital.”

Related story: Latest Health Order Requires Indoor Performers to be Masked

Karen Jenkins
Karen Jenkins
Correspondent |

Karen Jenkins is pleased to be a correspondent with the Concord Clayton Pioneer News. She has worked as a community journalist on and off for three decades at publications including the Contra Costa Sun in Lamorinda; the Antioch Daily Ledger; the Avon-Beaver Creek Times in Colorado; Roll Call in Washington, D.C. and the Daily Nexus at UC-Santa Barbara. She is also the student advisor for The Sentinel, the student newspaper at Northgate High School in Walnut Creek. She may be reached at