While grocery shopping in Poughkeepsie on Wednesday I planned to finally ditch the mask but was completely shocked by what happened next.

After spending over a year living in fear and wearing a mask whenever I left my home it was a relief to finally hear that the end is here. Like many other Hudson Valley residents, I was overjoyed to learn about new data that shows vaccinated individuals are extremely unlikely to catch or spread COVID-19. In fact, researchers have discovered that being vaccinated protects you way more than a mask ever could, so going without one is perfectly fine if you've had the shot.

Armed with the knowledge that I no longer need a mask I was excited to finally free my face and go grocery shopping without having my glasses fog up when I try to read expiration dates. I triumphantly walked into the store with my mask off, grabbed my cart and began to shop, but quickly discovered that not everyone else was as excited as I was.

The store I went to had confirmed on social media that they were no longer requiring masks, however, some leftover signs were still posted reminding customers that New York mandates the use of a mask. While that info is outdated, staring at the sign while not wearing a mask made me feel uneasy. Out-of-date announcements on the loudspeaker were also blaring throughout the store, constantly reminding customers to stand two cart lengths apart, only allow one family member into the store at a time and always wear a face covering.

As I looked around the store, everyone was wearing a mask. Employees and customers were going about their day like nothing had changed. Immediately I felt extremely uncomfortable. I didn't want people to think I was one of those mask deniers. I had spent the last year following the science, doing everything I could to keep others safe. Was I now making other shoppers uncomfortable by continuing to follow the science and ditching the mask?

As I came across an elderly woman in the bread aisle I slid my mask back on my face as I walked past her. The last thing I wanted to do was to make her feel unsafe. As I passed her I poked my nose out from behind the mask, only to cover up again as I rounded the corner and spotted two workers fully masked. This peek-a-boo mask game was getting old, so I just slapped it back over my face and finished up my shopping.

Leaving the store I was disappointed that my first maskless trip out was a complete disaster, but suddenly realized that wearing a mask isn't something you can turn on and off like a light. It's going to take a little time for people to get on the same page. Last year it was unnerving walking into a store with a mask on for the first time, so it only makes sense that going maskless again will also take some getting used to.

Until then, I'll make sure to keep an extra mask handy just in case.

Which Hudson Valley Supermarkets Still Require Masks

As of Wednesday, May 19 masks are no longer required for vaccinated individuals living in the Hudson Valley. That doesn't mean that businesses still can't have policies in place denying service to anyone not wearing one. Supermarkets, which have been on the front lines in fighting the spread of COVID-19, are now faced with a tough decision when it comes to protecting their workers and customers in areas where vaccinations are lagging.