Amid the turmoil of the past two years—a period that included a deadly pandemic, mass layoffs, an ugly presidential election, and an attack on the United States Capitol—some of America’s fiercest political debates have revolved around a portion of nearly weightlessness. Fabric: face mask.
US officials have been slow to adopt face masks as a strategy to slow the spread of the coronavirus. When they finally did, the masks became a powerful symbol of the epidemic – common sense public health management turned political focus And a visual reminder that life wasn’t normal.
Now, with summer deltas soaring in the rear-view mirror and school-age children vaccinated, many Americans are wondering when the masks will finally be removed.
“The best science supports mask wearing as a valid strategy to reduce Covid-19,” said Dr. Stephen Lube, an infectious disease expert and epidemiologist at Stanford University. “The issue is: Well, how long do we do that, and how many contexts?” He added, “Do we all wear masks for the rest of our lives?”
Some government officials are already drawing up an end-game plan. On Tuesday, Mayor Muriel Bowser of Washington, D.C. announced that indoor mask requirements will ease. The next day, Florida deputies Bill passed banning school mask authorizationswhich had already been abandoned by some areas.
“He wants to drop the mask mandate in schools when health officials decide it’s safe,” his spokesman, Eric Adams, the mayor-elect of New York City, said in an email.
Experts said it was not yet time.
“Cases are starting to rise again, and we are not yet out of this virus,” said Ann Rimoen, an epidemiologist at the University of California, Los Angeles. “Maybe we are tired of Covid and Covid restrictions and public health measures, but this virus is definitely not over with us yet.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people who have received full vaccinations wear masks in indoor public places where transmission of the virus is in the community.”big or high. ” currently, Approximately 85 percent of US counties meet that limit, which is defined as at least 50 new cases per week per 100,000 residents.
It will be safer to dilute mask requirements Early next year, scientists said, after more children have been fully vaccinated and the holiday travel season has passed. They noted that voluntary mask wearing will continue to be beneficial in certain circumstances, as well as in future cold and flu seasons.
“I don’t think we’d want to put our masks away,” Dr. Lube said.
Several lines of evidence support the effectiveness of face masks as a public health intervention.
Laboratory studies have shown that even basic cloth masks can prevent More than 50 percent from a small aerosol. Surgical masks and N95 respirators are best. Real world research suggests that at the state level And at the school level Mask assignments curb the spread of the virus.
A randomized trial conducted by Dr. Luby and colleagues in 600 villages in Bangladesh showed that interference wear mask, including the distribution of free masks and a multi-pronged messaging campaign, have led to significant increases in mask-wearing and a decline in Covid cases. (The study has not yet been published in a scientific journal.)
All of these studies have limits, but they are together and Many similar analyzes-Add up to a clear result.
“There is a tremendous amount of evidence that masks help slow transmission,” said Lynsey Marr, an expert in airborne viruses at Virginia Tech.
Face masks are not without flaws. “They impede communication,” Dr. Marr said. “They can be uncomfortable.”
Some people with disabilities may not be able to wear masks, and there is still debate about how to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of concealing young children, who are less likely to contract the virus seriously than adults. (The CDC says children under two years old Masks should not be worn, while the World Health Organization Recommend not to order Masks for children under 6 years old.)
But given that most people tolerate masks well and wearing masks is less inconvenient than other mitigation measures such as lockdowns, Experts said face masks are a key tool in managing the epidemic.
“I think mask-wearing is, in many ways, one of the interventions you might want to finally relax in,” said Richard Stott, an infectious disease modeler at the University of Cambridge. “Wearing masks is a very, very low cost compared to most other interventions.”
Also, various companies produce custom gaiter masks at an affordable price which is more convenient and fashionable.
But the mask mandates were never intended to last forever, and this fall, as cases declined and vaccine eligibility expanded, some government officials began thinking about how to end them.
This month, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health announced its standards, including specific vaccinations and transportation standards, to raise some indoor masking requirements.
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy recently said he hopes to lift the state’s school mask mandate “sooner rather than laterHe floated the idea of eliminating the requirement in phases, starting with high schools, whose teenage students had been eligible for vaccination for months.
But experts said it would be premature to relax mask requirements now, especially as we head into winter, when people spend more time indoors, holiday travel brings people far away together and respiratory viruses spread easily.
“Now is not the time to reduce mask mandates,” Dr. Luby said.
Dr. Marr recommended that the school mask not be lifted until after the winter break has passed and more school-aged children have had the opportunity to get both shots. “Yes, let’s get rid of the masks,” she said if community transmission levels are low or moderate a few weeks after classes resume in January.
Sima Lakdawala, a respiratory virologist at the University of Pittsburgh, imagined a similar timeline: “Maybe in February we can say goodbye to masks.”
Other experts were hesitant to make an appointment. Dr Rimoin said she would like to see a more sustainable decrease in cases and deaths before mask requirements are eased. “We are still seeing 1,000 people die every day from this virus,” she said. “It’s not just a matter of convenience and ease — I mean, this is a matter of life and death for a lot of people.”
The future of the face mask
The scientists emphasized that easing mask restrictions should be a local decision, based on a complex of factors including local transmission and vaccination rates, and the vulnerability of the population involved.
“If there is a particular area or community in an outbreak, I think it would make a lot of sense for people within that community to wear masks even if things, nationally, are somewhat under control,” Dr. Stutt said.
And wearing a mask is not all or nothing. Even after mandates are lifted, it would make sense for some people – the elderly or those who are immunocompromised, for example – to wear masks in certain circumstances and settings. Scientists said people should be prepared to re-wear masks in the event of future highs.
Experts also expressed hope that new standards for mask-wearing might hold up after the pandemic. Face masks can help reduce transmission of other respiratory viruses, and experts said they plan to continue wearing masks in some environments, such as planes and buses, during future flu seasons.
“Before the pandemic, there was a stigma associated with wearing masks in this country, but I think it has become the norm in a lot of places,” Dr. Marr said. (However, she admitted, “I think other people will never wear a mask again.”)
Dr Lakdwala hoped that as other pandemic restrictions ease, people may find a brief period of wearing masks, in some high-risk situations, less difficult.
“Hopefully when people become more comfortable with the vaccination and realize that they can see their friends and family and can go about their normal activities in a safe way, wearing a mask on a bus for the 20 minutes you need to ride to work will not be seen as a burden.” “It is seen as a way to protect yourself and your family.”