As COVID guidelines continue to ease in the US, should you still be wearing a mask?
Although mask mandates are no longer in effect, there are still some guidelines experts say you should follow.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 guidelines state that those who have been 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 consecutive negative tests 48 hours apart, you can remove your mask earlier than day 10,” the guide states, adding that if your antigen test results are positive, “you may still you are infectious’.
Those who continue to be positive should continue to mask.
“You should continue to wear a mask and wait at least 48 hours before retesting,” the CDC recommends. “Continue to do antigen tests at least 48 hours apart until you get two consecutive negative results. This may mean you should continue to wear a mask and get tested after day 10.”
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 an individual is considered to be at high risk of severe 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 … I just feel 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 feel like they want to wear a mask indoors, there shouldn’t be any shame associated with that.”
Welbel said this is especially true for 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 testing requirements for COVID-19.
In Chicago Public Schools, masking 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 some cases masking will be necessary.
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.
Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Alison Arwadi said the city is staying away from the mask mandate, with hospital capacity still sufficient to meet current patient needs.
“I don’t expect there to be a mask and mask requirement indoors any time soon.” Where we would bring back the indoor mask requirement is if we see that our health system is at risk,” she 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 in the coming 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 people shouldn’t just think about COVID when they consider wearing masks in the coming months.
With fall and winter approaching, as well as flu season, Welbel noted that other respiratory viruses can also be slowed by the practice.
“Unless behavior changes and people go back to wearing masks, we’re going to see a lot more of all these respiratory viruses,” Welbel said. “We’re already seeing some flu.”
However, whether the country will exceed pre-pandemic levels for other respiratory viruses this fall and winter remains to be seen.
“During COVID, when people were wearing masks, we hardly saw any of the respiratory viruses circulating. We would have clusters of RSV and so on, but — and we did have a fair amount of flu in our area here last flu season — but we’ll see more,” Welbel said. “I don’t know if … it’s going to be out of proportion to, that we’ve seen in the past. There’s no question that without wearing a mask, we’re going to see more COVID, more flu, more RSV, a lot of — I can name a lot of the other respiratory viral viruses — we’re going to see them all. And again, if people don’t want to get infected with them, they can wear masks.”
Both Arwadi and Welbel said they continue to mask indoors.
“I’m very careful. I wear my mask indoors, I test a lot, I follow my own advice and, you know, I haven’t really had one [COVID]” Arwadi said last week. “And I’m happy about that.”
“I always wear a mask indoors. I mean it 100 percent of the time,” Welbel told NBC 5, though he stressed that “it’s a personal decision at this point.”