Philadelphia residents weigh in on mask debate

Erin Fornwald
Jason Peters

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently announced updated mask guidelines stating, “Fully vaccinated people can resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing.”

In Philadelphia, vaccinated residents are no longer required to wear masks at outdoor gatherings, and the city is set to revisit indoor mask wearing on June 11.

It’s certainly an exciting time, but not everyone is on board with the maskless lifestyle.

In a search to gauge how Philadelphians feel about the new guidelines, Metro spoke to more than a dozen people stretching from South Philly to Fishtown. 

Here’s what they had to say.

“It’s too soon, people who are not vaccinated are going to walk around without a mask and get people sick,” said Marlene, a Point Breeze corner store owner who declined to give her last name. Marlene is vaccinated, but says she’ll “feel more comfortable when the COVID rates drop.”  

Erin Fornwald, a 28 year-old Point Breeze resident echoed this same opinion. “There is no way to tell if people are vaccinated,” Fornwald explained “and people won’t wear masks who aren’t vaccinated.” 

Walking through the Graduate Hospital section of South Philly, all five unmasked individuals I attempted to interview declined to speak after hearing the topic of conversation. The “mask conversation” has become polarizing—I suspect many of the unmasked interviewees felt as if I was judging them because I was wearing a mask at the time. 

“I don’t really care about COVID,” said Paul, an unmasked 40 year-old while paying for parking along South Street. Paul, who also asked that his last name not be published, works in hospitality and claims to have gotten COVID after receiving his Johnson & Johnson vaccination. “I got vaccinated and two weeks later I got COVID,” he said rather nonchalantly.

Jule. Jason Peters

Jule, a 22 year-old bartender, sat maskless and socially distanced in Rittenhouse Park. “I think that people who are not at risk, who are around non-at-risk people should be comfortable. But if you’re around people who are at risk, you should wear a mask.” She added that, “If you’re out at a bar walking around, you should wear a mask because you don’t know who people are seeing.”

Both Jule, a bartender and Marlene, a corner store owner, were in favor of masks remaining on in their places of employment. Both bars and corner stores are highly trafficked places with little room to navigate that nearly anyone can enter. Most people interviewed for this article gave reasons for their mask preferences that were circumstantial to their own lives.

Leaford. Jason Peters

While waiting for the Market-Frankford Line at 15th Street, Leaford, a 55 year old Jamaican man said he won’t feel comfortable until 100% of the population is vaccinated. “Not even 90% would do?” I asked. “100%,” he responded.

Public transit remains one of the few public spaces where masks remain mandatory. Everyone on the El had their faces covered.

Rittenhouse Park was a scattered mix, passersby remained mostly masked, whereas picnic goers and people who were posted up had opted to go maskless. Samson Street between 15th and 16th—where the street is closed to local traffic—was a buzz with maskless happy hour attendees. 

Retiree Jeremiah Wilson was standing outside of Girard Avenue station fully vaccinated, but stated that he’s not taking his mask off “until this thing is over.” When asked when he would consider things to be over, he said “not to put it on one man, but whenever (Dr. Anthony) Fauci says it’s safe to take em’ off.”

A similar sentiment was mentioned by another retired man in Point Breeze who asked to remain anonymous. The 81 year-old said he’s not sure who to trust due to consistent contradictions. Both men were fully vaccinated and noted that they’d be wearing masks for more than a year.   

Khalil Frazier. Jason Peters

Inside the Gallery on Ninth and Market streets, photographer Khalil Frazier, 26, sat both unvaccinated and unphased. Frazier mentioned “I feel comfortable without (a mask) now.” He is vaccine skeptical, mentioning he would “wanna wait a couple months” because in his words: “the first dose of anything is the bad dose.”

Kevin Kilkenney. Jason Peters

Kevin Kilkenney, a videographer differed noting that he’s “still airing on the cautious side.” Kilkenney says he doesn’t wear a mask for his own safety but rather for the people he comes in contact with, mentioning his sister’s newborn and his girlfriend’s line of work.

Overall, no two mask opinions were exactly the same. Everyone’s thoughts were reflective of their own circumstance. But one thing is certain—after experiencing what was likely the strangest year of everyone’s lives, Philadelphians are excited and eager to re-acclimate to normalcy. 

Jason Peters can be reached at [email protected] and @jpeters2100

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