As COVID guidelines continue to relax across the US, should you still be wearing a mask?
While mask mandates are no longer in effect, there are still some guidelines experts say you should follow.
First, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s new guidance says that those exposed to someone with COVID-19 should wear a high-quality mask for 10 days and get tested after the fifth day.
Those who test positive but end isolation after five days must wear a mask for the 10th day – with warning.
The CDC also notes that if you have access to antigen tests, “you should consider using them.”
“With two consecutive negative tests 48 hours apart, you can remove your mask sooner than the 10th day,” the guidance says, adding that if your antigen test results are positive, “you can you are still infectious”.
Those who continue to test positive should continue masking.
“You should continue to wear a mask and wait at least 48 hours before taking another test,” the CDC recommends. “Continue taking antigen tests at least 48 hours apart until you have two consecutive negative results. This may mean you need to continue wearing a mask and testing beyond the 10th day.”
But outside of isolation and exposure guidelines, how often should people wear masks?
Masks continue to be recommended only in areas where community transmission is considered high, or if a person is considered at high risk of severe disease.
Several counties in the Chicago area ranked last under the “high” category.
“Covid is not over,” said Dr. Sharon Welbel, director of Hospital Epidemiology and Infection Control for Cook County Health. “You know, you know, being out… it just feels like most people feel like it’s over now and it’s not over. And you know, I think if people don’t want to get COVID and they feel like they want to wear a mask inside, there should be no shame associated with it.”
Welbel said this is especially true with school-aged children.
Masks will be optional in most districts when classes resume this fall, and some of the nation’s largest districts have canceled or eliminated testing requirements for COVID-19.
In Chicago Public Schools, a mask will not be required in most situations, but is still “strongly recommended.” Masks will be available to those who request them, according to officials.
However, in certain cases, masking will be required.
Meanwhile, Kentucky’s largest school district will require universal masking on school property as Jefferson County moves to the highest level of community spread of COVID-19.
Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, Dr. Allison Arwady said the city is staying away from the mask mandate, with hospital capacity still sufficient to meet current patient needs.
“I don’t foresee a demand for masks and inner masks coming anytime soon. Where we would reinstate an indoor mask requirement is if we’re seeing our health care system being threatened,” she said last month.
However, around the world, countries that are seeing an increase in cases are starting to bring back some requests for COVID.
The German government last week said basic coronavirus requirements would remain in place through next autumn and winter, when experts expect cases of COVID-19 to rise again as people spend more time indoors.
At the same time, the Indian capital has reintroduced public mask mandates as COVID-19 cases continue to rise across the country.
But it’s not just COVID that people have to think about when they think about wearing masks in the coming months.
With fall and winter approaching, along with flu season, Welbel noted that other respiratory viruses can also be slowed by the practice.
“Unless behavior changes and people don’t go back to wearing masks, we’re going to see a lot more of all these respiratory viruses,” Welbel said. “We’re already seeing a flu.”
Whether or not the country will see rates surpass pre-pandemic levels for other respiratory viruses this fall and winter, however, remains to be seen.
“During COVID, when people were wearing masks, we hardly saw any of the respiratory viruses going around. We would have clusters of RSV and so on, but — and we had a fair amount of flu in our area here this season of the last flu — but we’re going to see more,” Welbel said. “I don’t know if it’s going to be out of proportion to what we’ve seen historically. There is no doubt that without wearing a mask we will see more COVID, more influenza, more RSV, many – I can name a lot of other respiratory viral viruses – we will see them all. And again, if people don’t want to take them, they can wear masks.”
Both Arwady and Welbel said they continue to mask indoors.
“I am very careful. I wear my mask indoors, I do a lot of tests, I follow my own advice and, you know, I haven’t actually had it. [COVID]”, Arwady said last week. “And I’m happy about that.”
“I always wear a mask inside. I mean 100% of the time,” Welbel told NBC 5, though she stressed that “at this point, it’s a personal decision.”