Over the past decade, Cathy Cassata has documented a wide range of tales spanning healthcare, mental well-being, noteworthy medical occurrences, and motivational human stories. As COVID variants EG.5 and BA.2.86 emerge and garner attention from health authorities amidst the advent of cold and flu season, public speculation about the potential need for reinstating mask mandates arises. Notably, renowned infectious disease professor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, William Schaffner, MD, reassures the public stating there’s currently no consideration of mask mandates within the health sector.
However, he does underline that regions experiencing an intense surge in COVID cases might reimplement stronger mask-wearing recommendations under their local health departments. Certain environments may also choose to mandate masks even before a governmental decree comes into effect, this includes hospitals, schools and private businesses.
These institutions may reestablish their masking requirements in response to local epidemiologic trends, or an increase in cases or clusters, as shared by Hannah Newman, MPH, Lenox Hill Hospital’s Senior Director of Infection Prevention.
Current recommendations from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continue to endorse masks as critical weapons in combating the spread of COVID-19, despite the absence of new mask mandates. CDC’s guidelines for managing COVID-19 in communities and individual capacities are based largely on hospital admission rates. As per a CDC spokesperson, these rates remain low in over 92% of the USA. However, with national coronavirus related hospitalizations and deaths witnessing an uptick by 8.7% and 10.5% respectively over the past week, the CDC continues to monitor levels of concern based on per 100,000 population hospital admissions.
Although winters may see a surge in medium to high-risk areas leading to more COVID cases and consequent hospitalizations and fatalities, masks remain optional protective gear that anyone can choose to wear. Health professionals do recommend that individuals at high risk of severe illness from COVID-19, influenza, RSV, or cohabiting with someone at similar risk, continue with masks.
Contexts that warrant masking decisions involve higher community case counts & attendance at crowded indoor activities with insufficient ventilation. Newman stresses that anyone positive for COVID-19 or exposed to the virus and unable to isolate should definitely consider masking. Decision-making in other scenarios depends on local COVID trends, ventilation levels, the number of individuals in proximity, activities prone to producing aerosols, and transitory risk assessments. Mask choice remains significant to endorsing health and wellbeing.
Masks should be well-fitted, covering the nose and mouth without gaps to prevent droplet transmission. An N95 mask offers peak filtration and security in settings vulnerable to viral aerosolization, though not generally required.
According to Newman, adequately fitted procedural and surgical masks exhibit robust filtration properties and fluid resistance. Lastly, multi-layer cloth masks may suffice if they’re comfortable, breathable, and properly worn, covering the mouth, chin, cheeks, and nose.