For the last year, you’ve been wearing a mask. It’s sweaty in the summer, it’s actually kind of nice in the winter, but it’s always there reminding you that we’re still in the middle of a pandemic. Until recently, masks were one of the very best ways to avoid getting or spreading COVID-19. Those little paper masks and pieces of cloth saved lives. So thank you for wearing yours.

But now, we have a new tool to fight the virus, and nearly a half million Philadelphians have already taken full advantage. They are fully vaccinated, which means it’s been at least two weeks since they either got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, or got both doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. They are safe. With millions of people vaccinated, we now know that they protect people extremely well against catching and transmitting COVID-19. What a great summer they’re going to have doing all of the things that they missed over the last year.

And starting on Friday, May 21, they’ll be able to do anything outdoors that they want to–without a mask. They can go to outdoor catered events, they can go catch a Phillies game, walk on the Plateau, check out Octavius Catto’s moving sculpture, and even stroll down South Street eating an ice cream cone. With no mask. Because they’re fully vaccinated!

And if being outdoors without a mask isn’t enough to look forward to, the Health Department is also making plans to allow fully vaccinated folks to skip the masks in most indoor places as well. Depending on how few people are getting sick with COVID and how many people have been vaccinated, that could happen as soon as June 11th!

Every day you delay getting your vaccine is another day stuck behind a mask. Another ice cream cone gone unlicked, another day without feeling the breeze on Kelly Drive, or seeing your friend’s wonderful smile.

Why aren’t we getting rid of masks today? Because not enough people are vaccinated yet. Hundreds of Philadelphians are still being diagnosed with COVID every day. Hundreds of people are still stuck in hospitals with COVID. And hundreds of thousands of Philadelphians still need to get the free, no-ID-needed, no-appointment-needed, walk-up, in-and-out-in-twenty-minutes COVID vaccine.

In Philadelphia, this pandemic hit our Black and Brown communities hard, causing high rates of hospitalizations and deaths. We know that many frontline and essential workers are Black and younger Black city residents have lower vaccination rates than other groups. We feel that the benefit of waiting a few more weeks to help give this group more time to get vaccinated is worth the relatively mild inconvenience of keeping indoor mask use for a little while longer.