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ISU professor: Keep wearing that mask if it makes you feel safer

AMES — Last week’s announcement from Governor Kim Reynolds eliminating mask mandates in schools and most businesses is making some Iowans anxious. Plus, the CDC says fully vaccinated people no longer need to socially distance or wear masks indoors, with some exceptions.

Douglas Gentile, a psychology professor at Iowa State University, says many of us will need to ease slowly into resuming pre-pandemic activities.

“If you go out and you find ‘Oh my God, I’m freaking out,’ then leave,” Gentile says. “There’s nothing wrong with that, and try again another day, but don’t assume you’re never going to be okay going out to dinner again.”

Gentile says it’s normal if activities don’t initially feel the same way they did before the pandemic, and if fully vaccinated people want to continue wearing masks, that’s also fine. Despite the drastic change in public health guidance, he says Iowans need to take the return to “normal” at their own pace.

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

COVID-19 has affected the mental health of many Iowans, and some parents are noticing changes in their children. Janette Lems, of Johnston, says the trouble for her kids began when they started school last fall and she sought out in-person play therapy.

“I called eight different places. I was told that they had no openings until May and this was in January,” Lems says. “I had no idea that there were so many troubled children that were, at the age of five or six, having to seek out mental health.”

According to the CDC, mental health-related emergency room visits increased 24 percent for young children and 31 percent for teens from March to October of last year compared to 2019.

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