WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Expert: Iowans Should Ease Pandemic Precautions at Their Own Pace

May 21, 2021

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's recent relaxation in its restrictions for those who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 has left some anxious about the drastic change.

But that's normal, said Douglas Gentile, a professor of psychology at Iowa State University.

The CDC announced last week that fully vaccinated people no longer need to socially distance or wear masks indoors with some exceptions.

“This is probably one of those situations where going into the pool slowly is better than plunging in all at once,” Gentile said.

He said despite the large shift in public health guidelines, many people will need to ease slowly into returning to activities and outings — and that will look different for each person.

"Don't believe that your feelings should be the same as anyone else’s," Gentile said. "We all handle stress differently. We've all come through this situation differently. We've all had very different experiences of it."

Gentile said it's normal if activities don’t feel the same way they did before the pandemic at first, and it could take a little bit for that feeling to pass.

"If you go out and you find, ‘Oh my God, I'm freaking out,’ then leave. There's nothing wrong with that, and try again another day," he said. "But don't assume, oh, you're never going to be okay going out to dinner again,’"

Following the CDC's new guidance last week, local jurisdictions have eased their restrictions, and top state lawmakers and officials have urged Iowans to further resume normal activities.

Last week, Gov. Kim Reynolds said there's no reason to "fear COVID-19 any longer." She encouraged Iowans to "lean further into normal" following a decline in the number of hospitalizations and increase in availability of vaccinations.

Last Friday, Des Moines repealed its mask mandate, while Cedar Rapids modified its mandate for those who are fully vaccinated. The same day, the Iowa Department of Public Health issued new guidance, saying mask wearing in schools and child care facilities should be optional, a move that goes against the CDC's new guidelines.

Just after midnight Thursday, Reynolds signed a bill into law that immediately made it illegal to require masks in schools, and restricted cities and counties from having mandates that affect private property. Republicans passed the bill in the legislature late Wednesday, after introducing it earlier in the day.

But Gentile said despite the shift in official tone, it's OK if fully vaccinated people still aren't comfortable ditching their masks.

"We need to get back into the habit of asking politely for what we need," he said. "And so, asking others what's okay. So before I take my mask off, when I'm around someone else, I say, 'Is it okay for me to take my mask off? I am fully vaccinated.'”