As COVID guidelines continue to relax in the U.S., should you wear a mask?
Even though mask mandates are no longer in place, there are still some guidelines that experts say you should follow.
First, new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states 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 until day 10, with a warning.
The CDC also notes that if you have access to antigen tests, “you should consider using them.”
“With two sequential negative tests 48 hours apart, you can remove the mask before the 10th day,” the guide states, adding that if the antigen test results are positive, “it is possible that it is still infectious.”
Those who continue to test positive should continue to mask.
“You should continue to wear a mask and wait at least 48 hours before taking another test,” the CDC recommends. “Continue antigen testing 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 day 10.”
But outside of isolation and exposure guidelines, how often should people wear masks?
Masks are still recommended only in areas where community transmission is considered high or if a person is considered to be at high risk of serious illness.
Several counties in the Chicago area were last listed in the “high” category.
“COVID is not over,” said Dr. Sharon Welbel, director of hospital epidemiology and infection control for Cook County Health. “I know, you know, being out … it seems 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 have COVID and feel who wants to wear a mask indoors, there shouldn’t be any 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 waived or eliminated COVID-19 testing requirements.
In Chicago Public Schools, wearing a mask will not be required in most situations, but is still “highly recommended.” The masks will be available to those who request them, according to the authorities.
In certain cases, however, it will be necessary to mask.
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.
Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, has said the city is staying away from a mask mandate, with hospital capacity still adequate to meet current patient needs.
“I don’t anticipate a mandated mask and inner mask requirement anytime soon. Where we would put an inner mask requirement again is if we see our healthcare system being threatened,” he said last month.
Still, around the world, countries seeing an increase in cases are starting to roll back certain COVID requirements.
Last week, the German government said basic coronavirus requirements would remain in place through the coming fall and winter, when experts expect cases of COVID-19 to rise again as people pass more time inside
At the same time, the Indian capital has reintroduced public mask mandates as COVID-19 cases continue to rise across the country.
But people don’t just have to think about COVID when they consider wearing masks in the coming months.
With fall and winter approaching, along with flu season, Welbel noted that other respiratory viruses can also be curbed with practice.
“Unless behavior changes and people start wearing masks again, we’re going to see a lot more of all these respiratory viruses,” Welbel said. “We’re already seeing some flu.”
However, it remains to be seen whether or not the country will see rates surpass pre-pandemic levels for other respiratory viruses this fall and winter.
“During COVID, when people were wearing masks, we hardly saw any of the respiratory viruses circulating. We’d have clusters of RSV and so on, though, and we had a fair amount of flu in our area here this past flu season. – but we’ll see more,” Welbel said. “I don’t know if it’s going to be … out of proportion to what we’ve seen historically. There’s no doubt that without wearing a mask we’re going to see more COVID, more flu, more RSV, a lot — you could name a lot of the other respiratory viruses, we’re going to see them all. And again, if people don’t want to infect them, they can wear masks.”
Both Arwady and Welbel said they continue to mask indoors.
“I’m very careful. I wear my mask indoors, I do a lot of tests, I follow my own advice and, you know, I haven’t really had [COVID]” Arwady said last week. “And I’m happy about that.”
“I always wear a mask indoors. I mean 100 percent of the time,” Welbel told NBC 5, though he stressed that “at this point, it’s a personal decision.”