Is it time to bring back the COVID mask? We asked 3 doctors
(NEXSTAR) – The COVID-19 public health emergency may be over, but the spread of the virus sure isn’t. COVID hospital admissions jumped another 21% last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.
The summer surge has some people – who haven’t donned a COVID mask in months – wondering if they should dust off their N95s.
We asked three medical doctors if they thought the rising cases and hospitalizations meant masks are needed now. For Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease expert at UCSF, the rationale hasn’t really changed.
“Masking remains an inexpensive and portable way to reduce risk as always,” he said.
Given the amount of the virus circulating now, Dr. Sherif Mossad, an infectious disease specialist at Cleveland Clinic, said those who are 65 and older or immunocompromised should consider masking in large crowds, especially when indoors.
Dr. Anand Parekh, chief medical advisor at the Bipartisan Policy Center, said that if you’re going to mask up, make sure you’re wearing a good one. N95 masks have better filtration than cloth masks, and are therefore better at preventing tiny viral particles from entering your system.
“One should consider the use of high-quality masks (e.g., N95) in public if residing in a community where public health officials note a significant escalation in cases and the individual is at high risk or lives with a family member at high risk,” Parekh said.
Chin-Hong suggested asking yourself the following questions when you notice COVID cases are high in your community: “Are you older or immunocompromised and haven’t been infected or vaccinated in the past 6 months? Do you live with someone who is at high risk of getting seriously ill with an infection? Are you looking forward to travel (that long-awaited trip to Europe) or a concert (Beyonce) or a family gathering coming up that you can’t miss?”
If you don’t want to risk getting sick, infecting someone in your household, missing a Beyonce concert, or calling out sick from your kid’s birthday party, wearing a mask can help significantly drop the chances you’ll catch COVID (or other airborne illnesses), Chin-Hong explained.
Large indoor gatherings and public transit are the “highest risk areas to consider for wearing a mask,” Chin-Hong said.
“Of course, if you’re in the same closed area with someone who is coughing or sneezing (and not wearing a mask), move as far away from them,” added Mossad. “If you can’t, then wear a mask – and politely offer one to them!”
With the recent rise in cases, more companies and organizations have asked their employees to put masks back on, including a few Kaiser Permanente hospitals and a couple of college campuses.
Jill Rosenthal, director of public health policy at the Center for American Progress, told The Hill summer surges of COVID-19 may be the new norm. “We have had a summer wave of COVID for the last few summers and so it’s not surprising to see an increase in COVID right now.”
While winter means more people socialize indoors (known to accelerate the spread of the coronavirus), summer means more people are traveling and socializing overall. Plus, in hot parts of the country, people are more likely to socialize and spend time in the air-conditioned indoors than they are to be outside.