You’ve probably noticed that face masks aren’t very popular right now. I’ve seen very few people wearing them in grocery stores and stores, on public transportation, and even in some doctor’s offices, which are the only places I’ve seen mandatory masks in months.
There are a number of reasons masks have seemingly disappeared from public life. Chief among them: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not issue indoor mask mandates, and most local governments and private businesses in the United States have also made masks optional.
On top of that, pandemic fatigue has had a number of effects on most of us – after all, it’s been about three years since COVID-19 emerged. We’re all desperate to get back to « normal », including not having to wear masks, but sadly, we’re not there yet. This is true despite the fact that the majority of Americans behave as if the threat of COVID has simply disappeared. But wearing a mask is still imperative, and this is especially crucial due to the current winter surge of non-COVID viruses. Below, infectious disease experts explain why it’s more important than ever to keep an N95 or KN95 handy this winter.
Yes, you must always wear a mask in spaces that do not require it.
This year, the CDC has repeatedly reduced its masking guidelines. In February, the agency released updated guidelines stating that children did not need to wear masks in schools; in April, the TSA mask mandate on planes expired (per CDC recommendation); and just three months ago, the CDC relaxed masking guidelines for healthcare facility workers, just before the start of cold and flu season.
Despite the conclusions one might draw from these announcements, COVID cases have not gone away, and they still need to be taken seriously, Eleanor Murray, ScD, a professor of epidemiology at the Boston University School of Public Health, tells SELF. “It’s been a huge problem – that we see a lot of talk about it as if COVID is over – but we’ve had a lot of times this year where we’ve had more cases than at times in the first two years. [of the pandemic]says Dr. Murray. Although many people may associate 2020 with the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, cases peaked in the United States earlier. this year, by CDC data. In January, just after the end of the 2021 holiday season, the country hit nearly 5,630,000 weekly cases, which was around the time the omicron variant began to dominate.
Cases have stabilized since that particular surge, but that doesn’t mean we’re in the clear. In fact, the current number of cases is still on par with 2020 figures – and if past Januarys are any predictor, we are sadly likely to see another rise in cases here in the coming weeks, Dr Murray says. « Thanksgiving has led to transmission, and it’s reasonable to believe that Christmas will lead to transmission, » she explains. Weekly cases in the United States have increased by about 150,000 since Thanksgiving week, and those are not the only statistics that will change after the holidays. “Since transmission has increased, deaths will increase,” says Dr Murray. « We don’t know 100% how much, but deaths will increase. »
Masks are recommended for many, many people right now.
It is well established that people with certain underlying conditions– including diabetes, heart disease and asthma – are more likely to get very sick from a COVID-19 infection. Additionally, anyone over the age of 65 is at high risk (more than 81% of COVID deaths occur in this age group), as are people taking certain medications that weaken their immune system. Finally, people who don’t have access to health care may be more likely to get very sick from or die from COVID-19, according to the CDC.