When can the Covid masks finally be removed?

When can the Covid masks finally be removed?

Amid the turmoil of the past two years – a period that spanned a deadly pandemic, mass layoffs, an ugly presidential election, and an attack on the United States Capitol – some of the most heated political debates in America have been about an almost weightless piece of fabric: the face mask .

American officials have been slow to adopt face masks as a strategy to slow the spread of the coronavirus. When they finally did, masks became a powerful symbol of the pandemic – a reasonable public health measure became a political focus and a visible reminder that life was far from normal.

Now, with the summer delta surge in the rearview mirror and the ongoing vaccination of school-age children, many Americans are wondering when the masks will finally fall off.

“The best science supports wearing masks as a valid strategy for reducing Covid-19,” said Dr. Stephen Luby, infectious disease expert and epidemiologist at Stanford University. “The question is, well, how long do we do this and in how many contexts?” He added, “Do we all wear masks for the rest of our lives?”

Some officials are already planning a final. On Tuesday, Washington, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser announced that indoor mask requirements would be relaxed. The next day, Florida lawmakers passed a law banning school mask mandates that some counties had already abandoned.

Eric Adams, the New York City mayor-elect, “would like to drop the mask mandate in schools if health officials consider it safe,” his spokesman said in an email.

That time has not yet come, said experts.

“Cases are on the rise again and we have not yet defeated this virus,” said Anne Rimoin, an epidemiologist at the University of California at Los Angeles. “We may be fed up with Covid and Covid restrictions and public health measures, but we are certainly not finished with this virus.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that even fully vaccinated individuals wear masks in indoor public spaces where community transmission of the virus is “significant or high”. Currently, about 85 percent of U.S. counties meet this threshold, which is defined as at least 50 new cases per week per 100,000 residents.

It will be safer to relax masking requirements early next year, scientists said after more children are fully vaccinated and vacation travel time is over. And voluntarily wearing masks will continue to be helpful in certain circumstances as well as in future cold and flu times, they noted.

“I don’t think we all want to put our masks down,” said Dr. Luby.

Several lines of evidence support the effectiveness of face masks as a public health intervention.

Laboratory studies have shown that even simple cloth masks can block more than 50 percent of small aerosols; Surgical masks and N95 respirators are even better. And real-world research suggests that nationwide and school-wide mask requirements are curbing the spread of the virus.

A randomized study conducted by Dr. Luby and his colleagues conducted in 600 villages in Bangladesh showed that a mask-wearing intervention, including free masks distribution and a multi-pronged messaging campaign, resulted in a significant increase in mask wear and a decrease in Covid. led cases. (The study has not yet been published in a scientific journal.)

All of these studies have limitations, but taken together, and many similar analyzes, give a clear conclusion.

“There’s an overwhelming amount of evidence that masks help slow transmission,” said Linsey Marr, an airborne virus expert at Virginia Tech.

Face masks are not without their drawbacks. “They’re hindering communication,” said Dr. Marr. “You can be uncomfortable.”

Some people with disabilities may not be able to wear masks, and there is still a debate about how to weigh the pros and cons of masking young children, who are much less likely to get the virus than adults. (The CDC says children under the age of 2 should not wear masks, while the World Health Organization advises against requiring masks for children under the age of 6.)

But since most people tolerate masks well and wearing masks is far less disruptive than other mitigation measures like locking, Face masks are an important tool in managing the pandemic, experts said.

“I think wearing masks is in many ways one of the last interventions you are likely to want to relax,” said Richard Stutt, an infectious disease modeller at the University of Cambridge. “Compared to most other procedures, wearing masks is very, very inexpensive.”

But mask mandates were never meant to last forever, and this fall, as the cases were dropped and the eligibility for vaccines expanded, some officials began thinking about how to end them.

This month the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health announced its criteria, including specific vaccination and transmission benchmarks, for lifting some of its indoor masking requirements.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy recently said he hoped to lift the state’s school mask mandate “Sooner than later” and came up with the idea of ​​gradually abolishing the requirement, starting with grammar schools, whose young people have been able to vaccinate for months.

But easing the mask requirement would be premature now, experts said, especially as we head into winter, when people spend more time indoors, vacation trips bring people distant together, and respiratory viruses easily circulate.

“Now is not the time when I would reduce the mask requirement,” said Dr. Luby.

Dr. Marr recommended that the school mask requirement should not be lifted until the winter holidays were over and more school-age children had a chance to get both shots. If the community’s transmission rates are low or moderate a few weeks after school resumed in January, “Yes, let’s get rid of the masks,” she said.

Seema Lakdawala, a respiratory virus expert at the University of Pittsburgh, envisioned a similar timetable: “Maybe we can say goodbye to masks in February.”

Other experts were reluctant to give a date. Dr. Rimoin said she would like a more sustained reduction in cases and deaths before masking requirements are relaxed. “We are still seeing 1,000 people die from this virus every day,” she said. “It’s not just about comfort and ease – I mean, for many people this is a matter of life or death.”

Easing mask restrictions must be a local decision, the scientists stressed, based on a complex set of factors including local transmission and vaccination rates and the vulnerability of the population concerned.

“When a region or a particular community is having an outbreak, I think it would make a lot of sense for the people within that community to wear masks, even if things are pretty much under control at the national level,” said Dr. Stuttgart

And wearing masks is not all or nothing. Even after the mandates have been lifted, it will make sense for some people – for example older adults or people with weakened immune systems – to wear masks in certain circumstances and environments. And people should be ready to put masks back on in the event of future surges, scientists said.

Experts also expressed hope that new standards for wearing masks could outlast the pandemic. Face masks could help reduce the transmission of other respiratory viruses, and experts said they planned to continue wearing masks in some settings, such as on planes and buses, during the future flu season.

“Before the pandemic, mask wearing was stigmatized in this country, but I think it has normalized in many places,” said Dr. Marr. (Still, she admitted, “I think others will never wear a mask again.”)

Dr. Lakdawala expressed hope that when other pandemic restrictions were relaxed, people in certain high-risk situations might find brief periods of wearing masks less stressful.

Hopefully people will become more familiar with vaccination and realize that they can see their friends and family and do their normal activities safely by being on a bus for the 20 minutes it takes to bus to work driving, wearing a mask is not considered a burden, ”she said. “It is seen as a way to protect yourself and your family.”

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Rachel Meadows

Rachel Meadows

Trending topics news writer who enjoys cooking, walking her dog and travel.

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